Prof. Stephen Foster
Publications in relation with the research project
Most species of moths use a female-produced volatile sex pheromone, typically produced via de novo fatty acid synthesis in a specialized gland, for communication among mates. While de novo biosynthesis of pheromone (DNP) is rapid, suggesting transient precursor acids, substantial amounts of pheromone precursor (and other) acids are stored, predominantly in triacylglycerols in the pheromone gland. Whether these stored acids are converted to pheromone later or not has been the subject of some debate. Using a tracer/tracee approach, in which we fed female Heliothis virescens U-13C-glucose, we were able to distinguish two pools of pheromone, in which precursors were temporally separated (after and before feeding on labeled glucose): DNP synthesized from a mixed tracer/tracee acetyl CoA pool after feeding, and pheromone made from precursor acids primarily synthesized before feeding, which we call recycled precursor fat pheromone (RPP). DNP titer varied from high (during scotophase) to low (photophase) and with presence/absence of pheromone biosynthesis activating neuropeptide (PBAN), in accord with native pheromone titer previously observed. By contrast, RPP was constant throughout the photoperiod and did not change with PBAN presence/absence. The amount of RPP (6.3–10.3 ng/female) was typically much lower than that of DNP, especially during the scotophase (peak DNP, 105 ng/female). We propose an integral role for stored fats in pheromone biosynthesis, in which they are hydrolyzed and re-esterified throughout the photoperiod, with a small proportion of liberated precursor acyl CoAs being converted to pheromone. During the sexually active period, release of PBAN results in increased flux of glucose (from trehalose) and hydrolyzed acids entering the mitochondria, producing acetyl CoA precursor for de novo fat and pheromone biosynthesis.
Female moths release sex pheromone to attract mates. In most species, sex pheromone is produced in, and released from, a specific gland. In a previous study, we used empirical data and compartmental modeling to account for the major pheromone gland processes of female Chloridea virescens: synthesis, storage, catabolism and release; we found that females released little (20–30%) of their pheromone, with most catabolized. The recent publication of a new pheromone collection method led us to reinvestigate pheromone release and catabolism in C. virescens on the basis that our original study might have underestimated release rate (thereby overestimating catabolism) due to methodology and females not calling (releasing) continuously. Further we wished to compare pheromone storage/catabolism between calling and non-calling females. First, we observed calling intermittency of females. Then, using decapitated females, we used the new collection method, along with compartmental modeling, gland sampling and stable isotope labeling, to determine differences in pheromone release, catabolism and storage between (forced) simulated calling and non-calling females. We found, (i) intact 1 d females call intermittently; (ii) pheromone is released at a higher rate than previously determined, with simulations estimating that continuously calling females release ca. 70% of their pheromone (only 30% catabolized); (iii) extension (calling)/retraction of the ovipositor is a highly effective “on/off’ mechanism for release; (iv) both calling and non-calling females store most pheromone on or near the gland surface, but calling females catabolize less pheromone; (v) females are capable of producing and releasing pheromone very rapidly. Thus, not only is the moth pheromone gland efficient, in terms of the proportion of pheromone released Vs. catabolized, but it is highly effective at shutting on/off a high flux of pheromone for release.