Thursday, 21 February 2013

Finding 'Mr. Right,' How Insects Sniff out the Perfect Mate


Feb. 13, 2013 — You may want to ramp up your romance this year by sharing a candlelight dinner, a walk on the beach, or even the scent of a perfume, but will that help you find your perfect mate? For one wasp species, it only takes a whiff of his special love potion to know whether he's "Mr. Right."

Unlike humans, most insects rely on their sense of smell when looking for a mate. Scientists have found that sex pheromones play an important role in finding a suitable partner of the same species; yet, little is known about the evolution and genetic basis of these alluring smells.

A team of researchers from Arizona State University and Germany found that one wasp species has evolved a specific scent, or pheromone, which keeps it from mating with other species. In addition, they discovered that the genetic basis of the new scent is simple, which allows the males to change an existing scent into a new one. Over time, the females recognize and use this new scent to distinguish their own species from others.

Scientists from ASU, the University of Regensburg, the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig Bonn, and the Technical University Darmstadt in Germany, present their findings in an article published Feb. 13 online in the journal Nature.

The researchers studied two species of the parasitic wasp genus Nasonia to learn about the evolution of sex pheromones. They asked, if male sex pheromones are used as unique mating signals to attract females, and if female wasps will not mate with males that have different pheromones, then how did the vast array of these scents evolve in insects?

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