Dr Wynand Van der Goes van Naters
We are interested in the molecular basis of smell and taste in insects. Smell and taste provide fundamental questions in biology –in the molecular neurobiology of behaviour, in development, in learning and memory, in chemical ecology and in evolution. Insects often locate and select the hosts from which they feed, and find sites for laying eggs, by chemical cues. Smell and taste also play important roles in mate choice (Figure 1) and other social interactions. Insects include some of the most serious vectors of disease, and cause enormous losses in agriculture. New methods for insect control may come from a molecular understanding of the senses of smell and taste. For an overview see Van der Goes van Naters WM & Carlson JR (2006) Nature 444: 302-307.
A second research direction is the function of P2X receptors in model invertebrates.
Identification and function of sex pheromones and their receptors in Drosophila
Jodie Wren, PhD
Insects not only use their senses of smell and taste to find the animal or plant hosts from which they feed and to find sites for laying eggs, but also to communicate with each other. Mating is the outcome of successful courtship, and the basis of courtship is communication between males and females. We recently showed that a large proportion (~20%) of the olfactory sensory neurons in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster respond specifically to fly odours and we identified several receptors that mediate these responses. This suggests olfactory sex pheromones may play an important role in the reproductive behaviour of Drosophila. We are identifying new olfactory sex pheromones in Drosophila and are determining their function in courtship. We are using a previously developed assay system to test each of the receptors' sensitivity to fly odours and are identifying the components in the fly odours that activate the receptors. In behavioural experiments, we explore how the flies use their receptors to distinguish suitable from unsuitable mates. Fruit flies belong to the order of the Diptera. The Diptera also include mosquitoes and biting flies that transmit serious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and trypanosomiasis. An understanding of sex pheromone communication in one fly species may elucidate general principles of Dipteran courtship, and may lead to new strategies of insect control by giving us the tools to disrupt the insects' reproductive behaviour.
ATP is an important signaling molecule in addition to being an intracellular energy source. P2X receptors are ion channels gated by ATP that have been shown to express widely in mammalian tissues. Very little is known of the distribution and function of P2X receptors in model organisms that are more experimentally tractable than mammals. The importance of P2X receptors in health and disease is becoming increasingly clear, making it urgent to understand (1) the range of physiological functions of the P2X receptor family, (2) how P2X mediated signaling regulates cellular function and (3) how P2X receptors transduce the binding of ATP to a change in ionic conductance. We are studying the physiological function of candidate P2X receptors in several invertebrate organisms, and also investigate the molecular mechanisms and pharmacology of ATP reception by P2X receptors heterologously expressed in HEK cells. This research is in collaboration with Prof. Paul Kemp, Division of Pathophysiology and Repair.
- Fay Cooper (undergraduate researcher -currently a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh)
- Danny Filer (undergraduate researcher)
- Stuart Hanmer (graduate student)
- Kimberley Smith (undergraduate researcher -currently a graduate student at the Royal Veterinary College, London)
- Katherine Taylor (undergraduate researcher)
- Dr Jodie Wren (post-doc)
- CSBI project grant
- Olympus Early Career Scientist Microscopy Award 2008
- Welsh Livery Guild Travel Scholarship 2010 to Stuart Hanmer