Peter Sorensen, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife


Research Interests:

My research focuses on the sense of smell and the fundamental role it plays in fish physiology and behavior. So important is this sense that if it is destroyed, most species of fish fail to feed, migrate, and even mate. The sense of smell is also highly sensitive, extremely specific, and easily manipulated: fish olfactory cues represent great tools for manipulating their behavior. Furthermore, because the olfactory system is highly conserved throughout the vertebrate lineage, fish are also excellent models for addressing basic questions of olfactory neurobiology and behavior. My laboratory is one of the few groups in the world that focuses on vertebrate pheromone function and discrimination. My approach is multi-disciplinary and I seek students with basic and applied interests in fisheries biology, neuroscience, animal behavior, and endocrinology. Accordingly, I have graduate appointments in fisheries, neuroscience, ecology, and zoology.

We presently study sex and migratory pheromones in several species of fish. About 10 years ago we identified the first sex pheromones in fish with the discovery that metabolites of sex hormones cause dramatic increases in the behavior and circulating hormone levels of male goldfish. One gram of these pheromones 'activates' 40 billion liters of water! Our discovery of 'hormonal pheromones' has now been extended to over 100 species of fish including many of commercial importance. Presently, we study several species (trout, perch, goldfish, catfish) to determine: 1) whether/how hormonal pheromones are species-specific; 2) how the vertebrate nervous system discriminates pheromonal information; 3) what the precise behavioral functions of these cues are; and 4) how pheromones can be applied to aquaculture and fisheries management.

Particular promise exists in the control of exotic species. We are also actively studying the olfactory biology and migratory behavior of the sea lamprey. Recently, we isolated and identified two unique bile acids from stream-resident larval sea lamprey that adults use to locate spawning streams. We know these cues are released into rivers and are detected with great sensitivity by migrating adults. Now we are evaluating their precise behavioral functions and how they might be used for controlling this exotic species.

We have excellent facilities to conduct these studies. These include a large fish holding facility with state-of-the-art video digitization equipment for studies of behavior, a modern HPLC for analysis of hormones and pheromones, a well-equipped electrophysiology laboratory, and ready access to field sites as well as specialized equipment (microscopy, spectrometry, etc.) at nearby locations.

Selected Publications:

(For a comprehensive list of recent publications, refer to PubMed, a service provided by the National Library of Medicine.)

Eichmiller JJ, Miller LM, Sorensen PW. Optimizing techniques to capture and extract environmental DNA for detection and quantification of fish. Mol Ecol Resour. 2015 Apr 27.

Eichmiller JJ, Bajer PG, Sorensen PW. The relationship between the distribution of common carp and their environmental DNA in a small lake. PLoS One. 2014 Nov 10;9(11):e112611.

Hansen A, Ghosal R, Caprio J, Claus AW, Sorensen PW. Anatomical and physiological studies of bigheaded carps demonstrate that the epibranchial organ functions as a pharyngeal taste organ. J Exp Biol. 2014 Nov 1;217(Pt 21):3945-54.

Sorensen PW. Behavioral analysis of pheromones in fish. Methods Mol Biol. 2013;1068:293-305.

Lim H, Sorensen PW. Common carp implanted with prostaglandin F2α release a sex pheromone complex that attracts conspecific males in both the laboratory and field. J Chem Ecol. 2012 Feb;38(2):127-34.

Lim H, Sorensen PW. Polar metabolites synergize the activity of prostaglandin F2α in a species-specific hormonal sex pheromone released by ovulated common carp. J Chem Ecol. 2011 Jul;37(7):695-704. Epub 2011 Jun 7.

Lavelle C, Sorensen PW. Behavioral responses of adult male and female fathead minnows to a model estrogenic effluent and its effects on exposure regime and reproductive success. Aquat Toxicol. 2011 Feb;101(3-4):521-8. Epub 2010 Dec 17.

Levesque HM, Scaffidi D, Polkinghorne CN, Sorensen PW. A multi-component species identifying pheromone in the goldfish. J Chem Ecol. 2011 Feb;37(2):219-27. Epub 2011 Jan 28.

Burns AC, Sorensen PW, Hoye TR. Synthesis and olfactory activity of unnatural, sulfated 5β-bile acid derivatives in the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus). Steroids. 2011 Feb;76(3):291-300. Epub 2010 Dec 8.

Fine JM, Sorensen PW. Production and fate of the sea lamprey migratory pheromone. Fish Physiol Biochem. 2010 Dec;36(4):1013-20. Epub 2010 Jan 21.

Fine JM, Sorensen PW. Isolation and biological activity of the multi-component sea lamprey migratory pheromone. J Chem Ecol. 2008 Oct;34(10):1259-67. Epub 2008 Sep 11.

Hoye TR, Dvornikovs V, Fine JM, Anderson KR, Jeffrey CS, Muddiman DC, Shao F, Sorensen PW, Wang J. Details of the structure determination of the sulfated steroids PSDS and PADS: new components of the sea lamprey (petromyzon marinus) migratory pheromone. J Org Chem. 2007 Sep 28;72(20):7544-50.

Martinovi D, Hogarth WT, Jones RE, Sorensen PW. Environmental estrogens suppress hormones, behavior, and reproductive fitness in male fathead minnows. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2007 Feb;26(2):271-8.

Sorensen PW, Fine JM, Dvornikovs V, Jeffrey CS, Shao F, Wang J, Vrieze LA, Anderson KR, Hoye TR. Mixture of new sulfated steroids functions as a migratory pheromone in the sea lamprey. Nat Chem Biol. 2005 Nov;1(6):324-8.

Fine JM, Sorensen PW. Biologically relevant concentrations of petromyzonol sulfate, a component of the sea lamprey migratory pheromone, measured in stream water. J Chem Ecol. 2005 Sep;31(9):2205-10.

Sorensen PW, Sato K. Second messenger systems mediating sex pheromone and amino Acid sensitivity in goldfish olfactory receptor neurons. Chem Senses. 2005 Jan;30 Suppl 1:i315-i316.

Former Graduate Students:

Leah Hanson (Ph.D. 2001, Neuroscience, University of Minnesota).

Peter Sorensen