Larvae of many marine invertebrates bear an anteriorly positioned apical sensory organ (ASO) presumed to be the receptor for settlement- and metamorphosis-inducing environmental cues, based on its structure, position and observed larval behavior. Larvae of the polychaete Hydroides elegans are induced to settle by bacterial biofilms, which they explore with their ASO and surrounding anteroventral surfaces. A micro-laser was utilized to destroy the ASO and other anterior ciliary structures in competent larvae of H. elegans. After ablation, larvae were challenged with bacterial biofilmed or clean surfaces and percentage metamorphosis was determined. Ablated larvae were also assessed for cellular damage by applying fluorescently tagged FMRF-amide antibodies and observing the larvae by laser-scanning confocal microscopy. While the laser pulses caused extensive damage to the ASO and surrounding cells, they did not inhibit metamorphosis. We conclude that the ASO is not a required receptor site for cues that induce metamorphosis.

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