Happiness chemical turns humble grasshoppers into marauding locusts

January 30th, 2009 - 1:11 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 30 (ANI): Scientists from the UK and Australia have uncovered the underlying biological reason why locusts form migrating swarms.

They have identified an increase in the chemical serotonin (a chemical also found in human brain that makes them feel happy) in specific parts of the insects” nervous system as initiating the key changes in behaviour that cause them to swarm.

According to scientists, blocking or reversing this chemical switch could offer a way to battle swarms using more environmentally friendly approaches.

The findings could be used in the future to prevent the plagues, which devastate crops (notably in developing countries), affecting the livelihood of one in ten people across the globe, the researchers added.

Desert locusts usually live shy, solitary lives. But every now and again they join together in gregarious bands that actively seek out each other until they form hungry swarms.

However, how this dramatic transformation comes about has been a mystery.

Now, scientists have identified that serotonin is indeed the causal link between the experience of being in a crowd and the change in behaviour.

For the study, first, locusts were injected with specific chemicals that block the action of serotonin on its receptors: when these locusts were exposed to the same gregarizing stimuli, they did not become gregarious.

Second, chemicals that block the production of serotonin had the same effect.

Third, when injected with serotonin or chemicals that mimic serotonin, locusts turned gregarious even in the absence of other locusts.

Finally, chemicals that increased the natural synthesis of serotonin enhanced gregarization when locusts were exposed to the tickling stimuli.

This indicates that it is the synthesis of serotonin that is driven by these specific stimuli and in turn changes the behaviour.

The study is published in todays edition of Science. (ANI)

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