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We use Drosophila as a model to understand how seminal proteins donated by males cause dramatic changes in mated females. These proteins appear to have important effects in all female animals examined, but their effects are particularly striking in insects. Mated Drosophila females, for example, show dramatic changes in behavior and physiology, including rejection of further mating, increased feeding, increased egg production and ovulation, sperm storage, and a decreased lifespan; seminal proteins cause all of these effects. By taking advantage of the excellent genetic methodology available for study of Drosophila, and its easily-assessed mating responses, we identify individual seminal proteins that cause each post-mating change. We find that seminal proteins work together with each other, and with molecules from the female to exert their effects. This research provides insights into molecular and genetic mechanisms in reproduction, as well as into evolutionary phenomena such as sperm competition and the rapid evolution of many reproductive proteins. It also can provide information to help in designing ways to control the reproduction of harmful insects, such as those that are vectors of disease.
The changes in the egg that occur upon fertilization to allow it to transition to a developing embryo are collectively known as egg activation. In animals, egg activation is triggered by increased calcium and results in completion of meiosis and initiation of protein synthesis. We are using Drosophila as a genetic model to identify the signaling pathways that function in activation, and the molecules that they regulate to allow the transition from egg to developing embryo.