TAMPA, Fla., June 13, 2013 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- For humans, melanin determines one's skin. The compound is a polymer, and also creates color in the eye and hair. Higher levels of melanin determines darker pigment for a person. For insects, however, melanin is a large portion of the entities immune defense system, as their blood darkens in response to pathogens.
Scientists who study insects now have a refined model of just how an insect forms its melanin as an important factor for the research on such creatures. The ability to understand and control the creatures derives specifically from the knowledge learned through such studies.
In the Journal of Biological Chemistry, University of Georgia entomologists have found the model scientists have been using up to this point are simply wrong.
"For 50 years or so, people have been studying melanization in insects, and a model has been built as a way of understanding how it functions," said Kevin Clark, an associate research scientist of entomology in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "They got a lot of things right, but some fundamental aspects have been ignored."
The traditional methods have created assumption that activation of a particular enzyme calls phenol oxidase, and is sufficient ability to create melanization. Results from the study led by Clark and Michael Strand found an important set of steps that were being ignored in archaic models.
Just like dominoes, the action in the insect immunology triggers other reactions. Melanization occurs when an insect is infected by the melanin that surrounds the infecting compound. This process creates free radicals that are byproducts that work to remove the infection wholly. For both the insects as well as for humans, an amino acid known as tyrosine is utilized as a synthesized melanin.
"It is a fundamental part of the immune system," Strand said. "A misinterpretation of how this enzyme cascade is activated is a crucial deficiency in the literature. If this paper has any impact, it would be that it is changing the view of what is functionally required for this to operate."
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