Given the choice between sex and food, how does the brain choose what to do?
In a new study, researchers at the University of Rochester have shown that for C. elegans, a microscopic roundworm, males prioritize mating over feeding, reports Science Daily.
The roundworm was chosen because its nervous system has been studied in great detail and discoveries translate to similar behavior in other organisms.
The researchers discovered that chemoreceptors control the expression of a receptor called ODR-10. These receptors bind to a chemical scent that is given off by food.
Smell is one of the senses that C. elegans uses to navigate through its environment for finding food, avoiding danger and locating a mate.
For the study, male roundworms with a normal genetic profile and another group that had been engineered by the researchers to overexpress the ODR-10 receptor, making them more sensitive to the smell of food, were placed near food sources at the periphery of a dish. Food was also placed at the center of the dish with potential mates.
The researchers found that the normal worms left their food source and travelled towards the center of the dish where they mated. The genetically engineered males overall were more interested in feeding. An analysis of DNA revealed the normal males produced 10 times as many offspring.
“These findings show that by tuning the properties of a single cell, we can change behavior,” said Douglas Portman, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Genetics and Center for Neural Development and Disease and the lead author of the study.
“We know that human behavior is influenced by numerous factors, including cultural and social norms,” said Portman. “These findings point to basic biological mechanisms that may not only help explain some differences in behavior between males and females but why different sexes may be more susceptible to certain neurological disorders.”
The research was published in the journal Current Biology.