Magazine article Science News

Lamprey Allure: Females Rush to Males' Bile Acid. (This Week)

Magazine article Science News

Lamprey Allure: Females Rush to Males' Bile Acid. (This Week)

Article excerpt

A champion sex molecule has turned up in an analysis of sea lampreys, and it may inspire new ways to defend trout and other Great Lakes fish against the invading blood suckers.

Long and skinny, the adolescent sea lamprey goes through a parasitic phase in which it clamps its toothy mouth onto another fish and feeds on the host's blood for weeks. The sea lamprey is native to the Atlantic coast but wriggled westward in the past 200 years as shipping channels opened. Sea lampreys "have been the most devastating invasive species ever to move into the Great Lakes," says Weiming Li of Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Male lampreys release a sex pheromone, which Li and his colleagues identify in the April 5 Science. They report that the compound can catch the attention of females at least 65 meters downstream. Insects often trail plumes of their sex lures, but this is the first evidence for such afar-reaching chemical come-on in vertebrates, Li says.

Fisheries managers might use such a powerful attractant to lure invasive lampreys into traps or develop ways to foil their courtship, Li speculates.

"It's a very exciting possibility," comments Marc Gaden of the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission in Ann Arbor, Mich.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the invading lamprey population boomed in the Great Lakes and fisheries crashed. Now, lamprey-killing chemicals, barriers, and operations to sterilize males keep lampreys down to about 10 percent of their nightmare peak, says Gaden. Control costs the United States and Canada together some $15 million dollars a year.

To develop new lamprey controls, Li's team targets spawning. …

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