A terrifying zombie fungus forces males to mate with the dead. Now we know how

mushroom Entomophthora muscae It has a great survival strategy and is likely to keep you away from your next meal: it infects and “kills” the female housefly before sending out irresistible chemical signals that encourage houseflies to trotting.

By enticing male flies to mate with chipped females, the fungus can pass onto the male fly and, in theory, have a better chance of further dispersal. Then the unlucky male fly is captured i mosky In the same way.

Crucial to this process is the release of sesquiterpenes, or chemical messages, that are synthesized in the female’s body and sent as an alluring signal. Based on the experiments conducted by researchers, the longer the corpse died, the more attractive it seemed to males.

“Chemical signals act like pheromones that fascinate male flies and cause them to have an incredible drive to mate with lifeless female carcasses,” says evolutionary biologist Henrik H. De Fine Licht, from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Once i mosky A female fly infects her with its spores, and it begins to reproduce. After about six days, it can control the insect’s behavior, sending it as high as possible (on a wall or plant) before it dies. The spores of the fungus are then sent from the dead fly, hoping to land on another fly.

But as this new study shows, by male temptation, i mosky It can guarantee that it passes to at least one other host, which will carry its spores far and wide again.

The team used a variety of chemical analysis and genetic sequencing techniques to find out exactly what the fungus was doing, as well as exposing male flies to their partner at various stages of fungal infection, or who had died of other causes.

“Our observations indicate that this is a very deliberate strategy for mushrooms,” says H. De Fine Licht. “He’s a true master of manipulation – which is absolutely fantastic.”

Tests showed that the carcasses of female flies that died for 3-8 hours attracted 15% of the male flies, while the carcasses that died for 25-30 hours, this number increased to 73%. The more time passed, the more chemical signals were released.

This isn’t the only time scientists have observed sesquiterpene being used to attract the attention of insects. As the chemical signals persist, it appears to be one of the most effective ways to manipulate these microorganisms.

There are plenty of opportunities for more research here, not least in effective fly repellents – flies can infect humans with various diseases, and sesquiterpenes can be used to lure flies away from certain areas, such as where food is prepared.

“This is where Entomophthora muscae Fungi may be beneficial, says H. De Fine Licht, and it may be possible for us to use these fungal fragrances as a biological pest control that attracts healthy males to a flycatcher rather than a corpse.

The search was published in ISME Magazine.

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