Brooke LaFlamme

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  • April 25, 2014
  • 01:41 PM

Mouse eggs are busy Survivin

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

he process of getting eggs ready for fertilization in mammals is extremely complicated. With so many moving parts, it’s amazing that it actually goes right so much of the time. But as biologists, we are of course more interested in when things go wrong. Researchers studying reproduction at the Chinese Academy of Sciences had an inkling that a small protein called Survivin was important for female fertility, based on its known functions. So, like anyone who’s ever wondered “what happens if I just take out this piece”, they took Survivin out of the mouse eggs. And they were (I assume) delighted to see that things went terribly wrong.... Read more »

Jiang ZZ, Hu MW, Wang ZB, Huang L, Lin F, Qi ST, Ouyang YC, Fan HY, Schatten H, Mak TW.... (2014) Survivin is essential for fertile egg production and female fertility in mice. Cell death . PMID: 24675472  

  • April 16, 2014
  • 04:19 PM

Sex in (floral) advertising

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Having a wingman can be helpful, but for many plants it’s absolutely crucial. Flowering plants don’t have smoky bars, speed dating or eHarmony. They have to rely entirely on their tiny wing—well, I guess “men” isn’t really appropriate. But unlike your witty friend who backs you up in the bar, pollinators don’t help plants with their dating life out of friendship alone. They need something in return, and flowers flaunt their assets to advertise the sweet rewards awaiting a helpful bee. In a paper published this March in the journal PLoS One, scientists studying a particular type of flower have discovered that bees are much more attracted to boys.... Read more »

  • April 14, 2014
  • 04:02 PM

Mosquito sperm need to smell to swim

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

You’ve probably had someone tell you, at some point in your life, that the sense of smell is the sense most tightly linked to memory. Now, scientists have found that at least for mosquitoes, the sense of smell is also linked to the ability of their sperm to swim. The research was published in February in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Female mosquitoes use their sense of smell to find people (so they can suck their blood) and suitable sites to lay their eggs. As you might suspect, the majority of the smell-sensing machinery in mosquitoes is in their head, but scientists have found molecules called odorant receptors, which are needed to detect volatiles (ie: smelly stuff), in other body parts. Researchers Laurence Zwiebel and colleagues studied the mosquito that transmits malaria, Anopheles gambiae, to find out what these other odorant receptors were doing. Specifically, they wanted to know if they were doing anything to the sperm, because apparently that’s how they roll.... Read more »

Pitts RJ, Liu C, Zhou X, Malpartida JC, & Zwiebel LJ. (2014) Odorant receptor-mediated sperm activation in disease vector mosquitoes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(7), 2566-71. PMID: 24550284  

  • April 3, 2014
  • 06:52 PM

An oral pheromone makes male wasps unattractive to females

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Communication is essential to any successful relationship, and insect relationships are no different. And, as in human relationships, much of this communication is non-verbal. Chemical cues in the form of pheromones help females of many insect species decide when to mate who to make with and, when the deed is done, other chemicals let them know it’s time to stop dating and get serious about making some babies.

Joachim Ruther and colleagues at the University of Regensburg in Germany published an article in 2010 that describes how the switch from “let’s do it!” to “I gotta find a place to lay my eggs” happens in the jewel wasp Nasonia vitripennis. Now, Dr. Ruther and Theresa Hammerl have found the exact chemicals that make this happen.... Read more »

  • March 31, 2014
  • 05:04 PM

Don't stress out your testicles!

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

You probably don’t need science to tell you that when you’re stressed out you’re not likely to be in the mood. But can stress cause physical damage to your reproductive cells? A study published this month in the Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests that it just might.... Read more »

  • March 28, 2014
  • 03:51 PM

Manipulating the mouse penis bone, with science

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

he girth of a mouse penis bone depends on the stiffness of the competition. That’s what Leigh Simmons and Renée Firman at the University of Western Australia found after several generations of experimental evolution in mice. Over the course of the experiment, male mice developed thicker penis bones (or bacula, if you want to be scientific about it) when females were allowed to mate with multiple males. The study was published in the January issue of the journal Evolution.... Read more »

  • March 26, 2014
  • 09:30 AM

STD puts crickets in the mood

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Imagine an STD that made you extra eager for sex. Oh, and it makes you sterile.

This STD exists—in insects.

Researchers working in a lab that studies field crickets came into work one day only to find, much to their dismay I imagine, that their colony had been infected with a virus. But, as they say in science, when life gives you lemons, thoroughly analyze them and publish the results.

Shelley Adamo and colleagues at Dalhousie University recently published an article in the Journal of Experimental Biology describing this accidental infection and how it made their crickets not only ignore being sick, but actually made them super randy.... Read more »

  • September 2, 2013
  • 06:56 PM

OMG. Sugar is poison?!

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Toxic. It’s a bad word, right? If something is toxic, or poison, it will kill you. Period. Arsenic? Poison. Water? Not poison. See? Easy! How about this one: sugar. Well, if we’re to believe everything we read in the media, sugar is one of the worst poisons there is. And you’re killing yourself with it RIGHT NOW (don’t deny it. I see that double caramel latte you’re sipping).... Read more »

Ruff JS, Suchy AK, Hugentobler SA, Sosa MM, Schwartz BL, Morrison LC, Gieng SH, Shigenaga MK, & Potts WK. (2013) Human-relevant levels of added sugar consumption increase female mortality and lower male fitness in mice. Nature communications, 2245. PMID: 23941916  

  • August 6, 2013
  • 02:04 PM

A story of sex and fly poop

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Scientists know a lot about fly sex. Maybe too much. We know how male fruit flies woo their mates. We've picked apart the seminal fluid to study all of the molecules in it. We know what happens to the female after sex:-and how it can even make her sick.

And we know what happens to a female fly's poop after sex.

Before, during, doesn't know the meaning of TMI. We want to know everything.... Read more »

  • April 4, 2013
  • 08:27 PM

Absence makes the genitalia grow weirder

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Evolution makes penises take on crazy shapes. But can male genital shape actually drive the evolution of two separate species? Researchers in Australia looked at populations of a millipede species with divergent genital shape to address this question. ... Read more »

  • March 15, 2013
  • 05:03 PM

What your testicles taste

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Most people probably think of tastebuds as existing only on their tongues, but did you know there are taste buds in testes? It’s true. Sort of. They aren’t exactly like the taste buds in your mouth. Male germ cells–the cells that are destined to become sperm–have molecules on them that can detect bitter tastes.
... Read more »

  • February 27, 2013
  • 10:29 PM

The discriminating vagina

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

All kinds of things go into a woman’s vagina. Some are friendly (like sperm and vaginal microbes), and some are very bad (STDs). The immune system in the vagina has to be able to tell the difference and react appropriately. As you can imagine, the system isn’t perfect and sometimes things go terribly wrong.

An article published earlier this month in the journal Fronteirs in Immunology (available online for free) reviewed the current state of knowledge of the vaginal immune system. The paper was written by Gary Clark and Danny Schust of the University of Wisconsin. I just wanted to highlight some of the points from the article here and talk about some interesting issues related to vaginal immunity.... Read more »

  • February 22, 2013
  • 04:34 PM

Social interactions get female cockroaches in the mood

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

The study, published this month in PLoS One, was conducted by Adrienn Uzsák and Coby Schal at North Carolina University…and some lovely German cockroaches. They found that when female cockroaches socialize, they produce eggs faster. And they don’t even have to socialize with other roaches! It just has to be an insect of roughly the same size and shape.... Read more »

  • February 15, 2013
  • 04:56 PM

Being pregnant must be super scary

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Kate Middleton might love being pregnant, but for the average woman it can be confusing and scary. Every day we learn about some new thing that, if you do it when you’re pregnant, can totally screw up your kid. By this point, pretty much everyone knows that you shouldn’t smoke or drink during pregnancy. Even sushi can be dangerous. But then you get a lot of contradictory information: drinking a little bit is OK…or is it?

So, in case you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, here’s some more news to totally freak you out. You can even affect your child’s chances of developing autism or obesity while you’re pregnant.... Read more »

Surén P, Roth C, Bresnahan M, Haugen M, Hornig M, Hirtz D, Lie KK, Lipkin WI, Magnus P, Reichborn-Kjennerud T.... (2013) Association between maternal use of folic acid supplements and risk of autism spectrum disorders in children. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association, 309(6), 570-7. PMID: 23403681  

Symonds ME, Mendez MA, Meltzer HM, Koletzko B, Godfrey K, Forsyth S, & van der Beek EM. (2013) Early Life Nutritional Programming of Obesity: Mother-Child Cohort Studies. Annals of nutrition , 62(2), 137-145. PMID: 23392264  

Pike KC, Inskip HM, Robinson SM, Cooper C, Godfrey KM, Roberts G, Lucas JS, & the Southampton Women's Survey Study Group. (2013) The relationship between maternal adiposity and infant weight gain, and childhood wheeze and atopy. Thorax. PMID: 23291350  

  • February 12, 2013
  • 01:08 PM

Giving STDs to goats. For science!

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Goats could potentially transmit a dangerous parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, in their semen, according to research by Flaviana Wanderley and colleagues in Brazil. Well...who cares? Why should scientists devote research dollars and time to purposely giving goats STDs, just to see if they can?

Like with so many other apparently bizarre research projects, the answer is: it's the economy, stupid!

Goat farming is very important in many countries, including Brazil and India. Goats are reared for both meat and milk, and can be much more economical to raise than sheep or cows. As of 2005, there were 9.1 million goats being raised in Brazil--that's more than the population of Switzerland! The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is extremely harmful to goats, causing congenital diseases and even abortions. So, you can see how preventing the transmission of this parasite in their livestock might be of importance to goat farmers.

Previous research found that Toxoplasma can be found in goat semen. They also found that experimental insemination of female goats with artificially contaminated semen can transmit the disease, called toxoplasmosis. But only two strains (G1 and G2) of Toxoplasma have been tested so far in this way. The G1 strain was able to infect about a third of females via the semen. G2 infected 100% of females. G2 infections also resulted in "embryonic resorption" (spontaneous abortion). The third strain, G3, was tested in the current study.... Read more »

  • February 7, 2013
  • 04:16 PM

Sperm are Cool #4: The octopus and the acrosomal screw

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Octopus sperm is sneaky. It starts off all innocent and normal looking, while it’s sitting there in the testes waiting to go to bat. Then, once in the female, the acrosome reaction begins and the sperm shows its true, screwy self.

And I do mean screwy. Seriously. It looks like a screw.... Read more »

  • December 6, 2012
  • 09:58 PM

Getting Taz's sperm...with electricity

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Tasmanian devils are rapidly face-cancering themselves to extinction. If we don’t do something soon, those weird little down-under devils will be gone forever. Enter: electroejaculation. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. An electric probe is inserted into the rectum of an anesthetized male animal (or human; this is also used for some infertility treatments). The probe stimulates the prostate and induces the animal to, um, provide a sample. A paper published this August in the journal Reproduction, Fertility, and Development, presented an evaluation of this technique for use on male tasmanian devils. The hope is that by collecting and saving devil sperm, it can be used in the future for artificial insemination. And given the risk of contracting face cancer during sex, artificial insemination might be the way to go for devil ladies.... Read more »

  • December 4, 2012
  • 01:38 PM

The secret sex of cheese

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Are you grossed out by blue cheese? (I’m not, but I know many who are). Does that blue-green marbling of delicious fungus kind of make you gag? Well, this little factoid probably won’t help: there may be sex going on in that cheese.

Until pretty recently, a big chunk of fungal species were thought to reproduce without sex–until people really started to look. It turns out, there’s a lot more sex going on in the fungal world (on the down-low) than people thought. And that includes fungi that are used to make delicious blue cheese. Jeanne Ropars and colleagues in France, the home of Roquefort cheese, looked at the genomes of the mold species used in this particular cheese to see what kind of funny business was going on in their snack of choice. They found much more diversity than could be explained by asexual reproduction. And even more telling, the genes used by fungi to find mating partners have been kept intact and functional by evolution, meaning there’s probably some sex going on. The results were published November 21 in the online journal PLoS One.... Read more »

Ropars J, Dupont J, Fontanillas E, Rodríguez de la Vega RC, Malagnac F, Coton M, Giraud T, & López-Villavicencio M. (2012) Sex in Cheese: Evidence for Sexuality in the Fungus Penicillium roqueforti. PloS one, 7(11). PMID: 23185400  

  • November 27, 2012
  • 02:03 PM

Sexual harassment: Cuts down on babies and mutations in flies

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Alexei Maklakov and colleagues in Sweden recently performed an experiment to see what effect sexual harassment (ie: constant, unwanted efforts by males to gain sex) had on the mutation rate of fruit flies in the next generation. The results were published online last week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (see citation below).... Read more »

Maklakov AA, Immler S, Løvlie H, Flis I, & Friberg U. (2013) The effect of sexual harassment on lethal mutation rate in female Drosophila melanogaster. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 280(1750), 20121874. PMID: 23173200  

  • October 19, 2012
  • 11:29 AM

Sperm are Cool #3: Giant sperm and the Zenker organ

by Brooke LaFlamme in Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

Since I missed last week’s sperm post, I thought I’d make up for it by writing about everyone’s favorite kind of sperm: giant. Who makes giant sperm? It’s not who you might think. The giants of the animal kingdom–whales, elephants–make sperm that are very similar to that of men and mice. Tiny. It’s the little guys who make the biggest sperm. In fact, as I’ve pointed out before, the largest sperm of all (and no, this is not relative to body size) are over 5cm long and made by a fruit fly called Drosophila bifurca.

But who else makes giant sperm? Well, it’s mainly arthropods, like the fruit fly, but also some flatworms and mollusks (maybe they’re compensating?), and some other unlikely suspects as well. For example: this tiny aquatic invertebrate known as Psuedocandona marchica, an animal without a Wikipedia page. These animals, which look like little aquatic blobs, belong to a class called the ostracods. Ostracods are a type of crustacean which are very tiny (0.1 to 30mm). But what they lack in size, they make up for in kinky sex lives.... Read more »

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