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The Sex Hormone Discovery that Could Feed the World

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Hydroponics merged with aquariums

Scientists recently have discovered a new sex hormone that has implications toward not only treating infertility, but feeding an over-populated world too.


According to a news release from the University of Ottawa, researchers have discovered a new sex hormone called “secretoneurin” that significantly affects sexual behavior in laboratory tests with zebrafish. The significance is that this peptide hormone is remarkably similar to that found in other animals—including humans.

Like the mouse, the laboratory rat, and the guinea pig, zebrafish are a commonly-used animal model for understanding how growth and development can be affected when genes responsible either directly or indirectly are altered, leading to unusual physical development. In the aforementioned University of Ottawa study, it turns out that zebrafish genetics can also be applied toward understanding and manipulating sexual behavior.


Laboratory Zebrafish

The news release tells us that by using gene-editing technology, University of Ottawa biologists Kim Mitchell and Vance Trudeau investigated the effects of disrupting the expression of Secretogranin-2 genes. Secretogranin-2 genes code for a protein that is important for brain cell functioning and the secretion of hormones to control bodily functions related to growth and reproduction.

When zebrafish were created in the lab that had a disruption of the Secretogranin-2 genes, the researchers found that although the zebrafish looked normal, they behaved differently than normal zebrafish. The behavior change appeared to be a loss of desire to initiate courtship antics that typically lead to egg release in the water and subsequent fertilization by the male. Although both the female and male zebrafish could make eggs and sperm respectively, they just were not mating as zebrafish normally do.

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Here is a YouTube Video Showing Suppressed Sexual Activity Between Mutant Male and Female Zebrafish:

Here is a YouTube Video Showing Normal Sexual Activity Between non-mutant Male and Female Zebrafish:

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What the researchers determined, is that a small region of the protein made by Secretogranin-2 genes is a special enzyme called the secretoneurin peptide, which plays an important role toward stimulating sexual function. In fact, the researchers found that sexual function can be restored by a single injection of the enzyme into the body of the zebrafish.

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Feeding the World Implications

So, what does all of this have to do with plant science and food? As it turns out, the significance of their findings has far-reaching implications not only toward potential infertility applications in humans, but also toward feeding mankind.

In future articles we will learn about aquaponics—the coupling of the production of aquatic animals (like fish) and plants (e.g. vegetables) as the basis for systems where wastewater from the aquaculture portion is used for the nutrition portion and growth of plants.

I foresee that one day, our homes will be designed with self-sustaining indoor gardens reliant upon the fusion of hydroponics with aquariums to produce both food for the gardens and protein for the inhabitants. Not unlike controlling a thermostat to control our environmental temperature, we could control fish reproduction levels to maintain garden nutrients and food on the table to meet the household needs.

If you are involved in aquaponics, let us know what kind of system you have set-up in your home and your thoughts on this study in the comments section below.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Reference:uOttawa Researchers Discover New Sex Hormone” Posted by uOttawa media services on Monday, May 25, 2020. The study: “Targeted mutation of secretogranin-2 disrupts sexual behavior and reproduction in zebrafish” soon to be available in the scientific journal PNAS.