Bacteria may allow animals to send quick, voluminous messages

Nov 11, 2013
Twitter clips human thoughts to a mere 140 characters. Animals' scent posts may be equally as short, relatively speaking, yet they convey an encyclopedia of information about the animals that left them. Credit: Michigan State University

Twitter clips human thoughts to a mere 140 characters. Animals' scent posts may be equally as short, relatively speaking, yet they convey an encyclopedia of information about the animals that left them.

In the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a Michigan State University researcher shows that the detailed scent posts of are, in part, products of , microbes that have a mutually beneficial relationship with their hosts.

"When hyenas leave paste deposits on grass, the sour-smelling signals relay reams of information for other animals to read," said Kevin Theis, the paper's lead author and MSU postdoctoral researcher. "Hyenas can leave a quick, detailed message and go. It's like a bulletin board of who's around and how they're doing."

Interestingly, it's the bacteria in pastes – more diverse than scientists had imagined – that appear to be doing the yeoman's job of sending these messages.

"Scent posts are bulletin boards, pastes are business cards, and bacteria are the ink, shaped into letters and words that provide information about the paster to the boards' visitors," Theis said. "Without the ink, there is potentially just a board of blank uninformative cards."

Theis, who co-authored the study with Kay Holekamp, MSU zoologist, studied multiple groups of male and female spotted hyenas and striped hyenas in Kenya.

By using molecular surveys, they were afforded unprecedented views of the diversity of microbes inhabiting mammals' scent glands. The researchers were able to show that the diversity of odor-producing bacteria in spotted hyena scent glands is much greater than historical studies of mammals had suggested.

The diversity, however, still consistently varies between hyena species, and with sex and reproductive state among spotted hyenas, Theis added. Importantly, the variation in scent gland was strongly correlated with variation in the glands' odor profiles, suggesting that bacteria were responsible for the variation in scent.

"There have been around 15 prior studies pursuing this line of research," Theis said. "But they typically relied on culture-based methods, an approach in which many of the similarities and differences in bacterial communities can be lost. If we used those traditional methods, many of the key findings that are driving our research wouldn't be detected at all."

For the current paper, Theis' team was the first to combine microbial surveys and complementary odor data from wild animals. The studies' findings leave Theis anxious to return to the field.

"Now I just need to get back into the field to test new predictions generated by this study," Theis said. "The next phase of this research will be to manipulate the bacterial communities in hyenas' scent glands to test if their odors change in predictable ways."

Theis is now also conducting similar research in birds, in collaboration with MSU researcher Danielle Whittaker. Being able to cast a wide research net and connect quickly with collaborators are some of the benefits of working for MSU's BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, Theis added.

Explore further: Birds choose sweet-smelling mates

More information: Symbiotic bacteria appear to mediate hyena social odorsб www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1306477110

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Whydening Gyre
1 / 5 (10) Nov 11, 2013
Makes one wonder just how much information is being relayed from star to star in all those photons...
JVK
1 / 5 (10) Nov 12, 2013
Makes one wonder just how much information is being relayed from star to star in all those photons...


Makes me wonder why anyone would try to link the conserved molecular epigenetics of species from microbes to man to their ridiculous cosmological theories.
JVK
1 / 5 (10) Nov 12, 2013
Article excerpt: "The diversity, however, still consistently varies between hyena species, and with sex and reproductive state among spotted hyenas,"

This diversity exemplifies "Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution" as clearly as does the diversity of social odors called pheromones in species from microbes to man (including birds -- not the mention of Danielle Whittaker's work).

What's amazing is that after publishing my model of adaptive evolution earlier this year, based on 3 decades of research...,

http://www.socioa...53/27989

...we still see people touting theories like snake-centric evolution of the human brain.

http://www.pnas.o...abstract

Whydening Gyre
1 / 5 (10) Nov 13, 2013
JVK. I have no problem with nutrient dependent/pheromonal driven adaptive evolution. In fact, I find it a magnitude of order more logical/acceptable than any other theory out there.
That said, pheromones communicate information.
Please forgive a "middle of the night" musing that communicating info (via whatever method) is the one thing the Universe does with unerring precision - over and over. No cosmological theory involved - just observed common threads.
JVK
1 / 5 (10) Nov 13, 2013
If indeed the Universe communicates, it does so via the Laws of Physics, which are being removed from the context of mutation-initiated natural selection because theorists have not found any experimental evidence of what's selected. Thus, the 2nd law of thermodynamics must go, since increasing organismal complexity defies it.

Evolution of transcriptional enhancers and animal diversity

http://rstb.royal...abstract

"Each of these papers, in one way or another, consolidates the idea that there will probably be no fixed law, like gravity, to explain at the molecular level how endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved. It rather seems that a wide variety of peculiar molecular mechanisms perform, together, the complex task of putting the genome in action, in each cell type of each animal species, at every moment in life and under every possible physiological and environmental circumstance."

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