Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

A wax ester promotes collective host finding in the nematode Pristionchus pacificus

This article has been updated


Survival of nematode species depends on how successfully they disperse in the habitat and find a new host. As a new strategy for collective host finding in the nematode Pristionchus pacificus, dauer larvae synthesize an extremely long-chain polyunsaturated wax ester (nematoil) that covers the surface of the animal. The oily coat promotes congregation of up to one thousand individuals into stable 'dauer towers' that can reach a beetle host more easily.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Dauer towers formed by P. pacificus for collective host finding.
Figure 2: Hydrophobic interaction mediates the adhesion of dauer larvae.
Figure 3: Secreted surface lipids facilitate dauer tower formation.
Figure 4: A very long-chain polyunsaturated wax ester specific for the dauer stage is a major compound of the surface lipid coat.

Similar content being viewed by others

Change history

  • 19 March 2014

    In the version of this article initially published online, the legend to Figure 4c describing step e incorrectly stated that 1 equiv. 3 was added when it should have been 1 equiv. 2. The error has been corrected for the HTML version of this article.


  1. Riddle, D.L. 12 The Dauer Larva. Cold Spring Harbor Monograph Archive 17 (1988).

  2. Ogawa, A. & Sommer, R.J. Developmental biology. Strategies to get arrested. Science 326, 944–945 (2009).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Albert, P.S. & Riddle, D.L. Mutants of Caenorhabditis elegans that form dauer-like larvae. Dev. Biol. 126, 270–293 (1988).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Croll, N.A. & Matthews, B.E. Biology of nematodes (Blackie & Son Limited, 1977).

  5. Brown, F.D., D'Anna, I. & Sommer, R.J. Host-finding behaviour in the nematode Pristionchus pacificus. Proc. Biol. Sci. 278, 3260–3269 (2011).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. Sommer, R.J. & McGaughran, A. The nematode Pristionchus pacificus as a model system for integrative studies in evolutionary biology. Mol. Ecol. 22, 2380–2393 (2013).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Félix, M.A. & Duveau, F. Population dynamics and habitat sharing of natural populations of Caenorhabditis elegans and C. briggsae. BMC Biol. 10, 59 (2012).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  8. Fuchs, G. Über Parasiten und andere biologisch an die Borkenkäfer gebundene Nematoden. 85. Verhandlung der Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte 2, 688–692 (1914).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Cassada, R.C. & Russell, R.L. The dauerlarva, a post-embryonic developmental variant of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Dev. Biol. 46, 326–342 (1975).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Popham, J.D. & Webster, J.M. An alternative interpretation of the fine structure of the basal zone of the cuticle of the dauerlarva of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (Nematoda). Can. J. Zool. 56, 1556–1563 (1978).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Wolfmeier, U. et al. in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, 2000).

  12. Okumura, E., Tanaka, R. & Yoshiga, T. Negative gravitactic behavior of Caenorhabditis japonica dauer larvae. J. Exp. Biol. 216, 1470–1474 (2013).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Lee, H. et al. Nictation, a dispersal behavior of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, is regulated by IL2 neurons. Nat. Neurosci. 15, 107–112 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Wharton, D.A., Petrone, L., Duncan, A. & McQuillan, A.J. A surface lipid may control the permeability slump associated with entry into anhydrobiosis in the plant parasitic nematode Ditylenchus dipsaci. J. Exp. Biol. 211, 2901–2908 (2008).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Ogawa, A., Streit, A., Antebi, A. & Sommer, R.J. A conserved endocrine mechanism controls the formation of dauer and infective larvae in nematodes. Curr. Biol. 19, 67–71 (2009).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Brenner, S. The genetics of Caenorhabditis elegans. Genetics 77, 71–94 (1974).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. Gems, D. et al. Two pleiotropic classes of daf-2 mutation affect larval arrest, adult behavior, reproduction and longevity in Caenorhabditis elegans. Genetics 150, 129–155 (1998).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  18. Bligh, E.G. & Dyer, W.J. A rapid method of total lipid extraction and purification. Can. J. Biochem. Physiol. 37, 911–917 (1959).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank all members of the Kurzchalia, Sommer and Knölker labs for helpful discussions. We are grateful to J. Saenz for proofreading the manuscript. We thank the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center for providing C. elegans strains. Work in the Knölker laboratory was supported by the European Science Foundation EuroMembrane Network (DFG grant KN 240/13-1). We thank R. Czerwonka for her experimental support in the synthesis of nematoil and J. Sampaio and O. Lavrynenko for their assistance in MS.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



S.P. and A.O. performed phenotypic and microscopy studies; S.P. performed lipid analysis; A.O. performed the genetic screen; U.S. performed organic synthesis; D.T. performed the experiments with insect host organisms; V.Z. and S.B. performed MS analysis; M.G. and U.S. performed NMR analysis; D.V. performed the electron microscopy studies; S.P., A.O., R.J.S., H.-J.K. and T.V.K. conceived the project and wrote the paper; S.P., A.O., J.-M.V., U.S., M.G., H.-J.K., R.J.S. and T.V.K. designed the experiments; all of the authors discussed the results.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Hans-Joachim Knölker or Teymuras V Kurzchalia.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Text and Figures

Supplementary Results, Supplementary Note, Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Figures 1–24. (PDF 6443 kb)

Supplementary Video 1

Collective waving of P. pacificus dauer larvae as a dauer tower (AVI 8181 kb)

Supplementary Video 2

P. pacificus dauer larvae secrete surface lipids. (AVI 591 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Penkov, S., Ogawa, A., Schmidt, U. et al. A wax ester promotes collective host finding in the nematode Pristionchus pacificus. Nat Chem Biol 10, 281–285 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing