Bacterial Secretions Serve as Aphrodisiacs for Protozoans

Fagjun | Published 2017-06-11 06:13

A mating swarm of Salpingoeca rosetta choanoflagellates
[Photo by Arielle Woznica]

Researchers found bacteria whose secretions can function as aphrodisiacs for protozoans uninterested in mating.

Any substance that can increase libido can be an aphrodisiac. Humans have considered a number of substances to be aphrodisiacs, though the effectiveness of many of them is dubious. The thought that organisms other than humans may need aphrodisiacs may seem outlandish, but it does make some sense. After all, not all animals mate during mating seasons because of a variety of issues. Some animals in captivity may refuse to mate as well.

Such is the case of the choanoflagellate protozoan Salpingoeca rosetta. These protozoans had difficulty mating in lab environments. A team of scientists had been able to successfully get the protozoans to mate, though it wasn't easy. It took the team 11 days just to get a small percentage of the protozoans to mate.

Bacterial Aphrodisiacs

Getting protozoans to mate in a lab culture doesn't have to be difficult and not very rewarding. All it takes, apparently, is adding a common bacterium to the lab culture. This bacterium, Vibrio fischeri, is well-known for its bioluminescence. Now, it can be famous for its aphrodisiac capabilities as well.

With the presence of Vibrio fischeri, the protozoans began to mate. They formed what looked to be a mating swarm within just a few hours of the addition of the bacteria. Researchers confirmed that the protozoans were indeed mating.

It turns out that Vibrio fischeri produce the enzyme chonodroitin sulfate (CS) lyase. Exposure to this enzyme can send Salpingoeca rosetta choanoflagellates into a mating frenzy. The Salpingoeca rosetta cells enter into cell and nuclear fusion as well as duplicate their genetic material. Researchers dub the enzyme “EroS”, and to the best of their knowledge, this is the first piece of evidence that bacteria can influence mating in other species.

Thus, if these bacteria can function as aphrodisiacs, other environmental bacteria may be able to influence mating behavior as well.

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