Sea Lampreys Respond to Pheremone

October 2, 2005

The chemical composition of a pheromone of the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), a parasitic fish that invaded the Great Lakes of North America in the early 20th century, is reported in the November 2005 issue of Nature Chemical Biology. The authors discovered that the pheromone attracts adult sea lampreys to spawning sites. Identifying the pheromone mixture offers an important, environmentally friendly new lead in developing means to control marauding sea lamprey populations.

Sea lampreys are ancient, leech-like fish that survive by attaching to and sucking out the bodily juices from larger fish. Since establishing a presence in the Great Lakes, they have devastated the fishing industry by preying on commercially important fish species. Researchers have searched for small molecules involved in the mating and migratory habits of the sea lamprey, in order to apply these molecules as potential control agents for these parasitic organisms.

After a 15-year hunt, Sorensen, Hoye and coworkers report the identification of a mixture of steroid-like compounds that are secreted by lamprey larvae and attract adult fish to suitable spawning areas. By concentrating thousands of liters of water containing the larvae, the team separated the secreted molecules into different mixtures and tested them for their ability to direct the swimming of adult sea lampreys. The team found that the sea lamprey pheromone is comprised of three molecules and andin the right conditions, they serve as a potent signal to direct migrating adult sea lampreys to appropriate spawning sites.

The identification of this class of sea lamprey pheromones uncovers previously unknown chemical structures and also provides new chemical inspiration for ways to manage the ecological problem created by the invading sea lamprey.

Abstract © 2005 Nature

“Mixture of new sulfated steroids functions as a migratory pheromone in the sea lamprey,” Peter W. Sorensen, Jared M. Fine, Vadims Dvornikovs, Christopher S. Jeffrey, Feng Shao, Jizhou Wang, Lance A. Vrieze, Kari R. Anderson and Thomas R. Hoye, Nature Chemical Biology, November, 2005

Peter W. Sorensen, University of Minnesota