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An investigation of chemotaxis in the insect parasitic nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora

  • D. M. O'HALLORAN (a1) and A. M. BURNELL (a1)


We tested the chemotactic responses of dauer juvenile stages (DJs) of the insect parasitic nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora to a variety of compounds that are known to be highly attractive or highly repellent to Caenorhabditis elegans. While H. bacteriophora DJs respond to alcohols and some aromatic compounds as well as to host metabolites such as uric acid and CO2, the most notable difference in the responses of these two nematodes is that H. bacteriophora DJs are unresponsive to a large number of compounds which C. elegans finds highly attractive. The latter compounds are typical by-products of bacterial metabolism and include aldehydes, esters, ketones and short-chain alcohols. While C. elegans finds long-chain alcohols (e.g. 1-heptanol and 1-octanol) repellent and short-chain alcohols highly attractive, H. bacteriophora DJs are strongly attracted to 1-heptanol, 1-octanol and 1-nonanol and find short-chain alcohols to be only slightly attractive. Parasitic-stage H. bacteriophora nematodes show a very weak chemotactic response to volatile molecules that DJs find highly attractive. Our results suggest that, associated with the adoption of a parasitic mode of life by Heterorhabditis, there was an adaptive change in chemotactic behaviour of the infective stages, resulting in a decreased sensitivity to volatile by-products of bacterial metabolism and an increased sensitivity towards long-chain alcohols and other insect-specific volatiles and possibly also to herbivore-induced plant volatiles.


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