Friday, February 18, 2005


The sex pheromone of the female German cockroach, Blattella germanica has been identified by researchers from Cornell university as 'gentisyl quinone isovalerate'. A tiny speck of it can lure males from literally miles away and drive them crazy. The researchers synthesized the pheromone after identifying its structure. Then they put it right alongside a pathogen that was lethal for the cockroaches. The males would get attracted to the compound, get infected by the pathogen in the death trap, and then spread this killer among themselves. The researchers say 'This is like spreading syphilis among the cockroaches'. The German cockroach is the most prevelant cockroach worldwide, and one of the most widespread pests in history.
The research was published in the February 18th issue of Science.

I was reminded of some similar research published by star Harvard chemist Stuart Schreiber in the early 1980s, when he synthesized the sex pheromone of the American cockroach, a molecule with a very unusual structure (For chemistry enthusiasts, a bis epoxide). The defining moment for Schreiber came when he put a whiff of the synthetic chemical on the antennae of male cockroaches; they went into a mating frenzy, and in the end, all that was left was broken legs and antennae...Schreiber's wife Mimi recounts how, when he used to come home from his laboratory, she used to insist that he wash and rewash and take a shower at least twice; these pheromones are super-active in incredibly small concentrations, and she was petrified about inviting scores of unwanted guests!
(Later, Schreiber became a founder of the new science of 'chemical genetics'-using small organic molecules to control key genetic events like regulation of the cell cycle. In the opinion of many, he is definitely a contender for the Nobel Prize)

On a similar note, here is an incredibly high resolution photo of an apparatus developed by one of the authors in the Science paper, designed to measure the response of fly antennae to various fruit 'smells'.


Blogger Nikhil K said...

Hi Ashutosh , I have added you to my blog rol Keep blogging away. Nikhil

9:15 PM  

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