Research highlight

Co-opting behavioural responses for development

Nature Communications

December 21, 2011

Dopamine signaling prevents elongation of the feeding structure in sea urchin larvae, when food is abundant, reports a study published in Nature Communications this week. These findings suggest that sea urchin larvae may have appointed a pathway normally used for behavioural responses to instead alter their development. Food or prey can act as a powerful stimulus to elicit metabolic, behavioural and developmental responses in organisms. Like many other prey-induced responses, the sea urchin larval response has been characterized as an offensive response, to increase food acquisition of the predator. Diane Adams and colleagues show that the food- induced dopamine signaling suppresses the developmental ‘default’ program operating in pre-feeding larvae to produce shorter feeding structures with lower food acquisition potential. The authors demonstrate that when food is abundant, sea urchin larvae protrude a shorter feeding arm and trade-off maximum food acquisition potential in order to conserve maternal resources and thus maximize fitness. These findings suggest that dopamine signalling can be manipulated in order to rapidly alter development in response to food availability.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms1603

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