Field of Science


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. The researchers synthesized the pheromone after identifying its structure, mainly by NMR spectroscopy. Then they put it right alongside a pathogen that was lethal for the cocckroaches. The males would get attracted to the compound, get infected by the pathogen in the death trap, and the 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.
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). Schreiber's wife 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 conecntrations! Schreiber published his work in the Journal of American Chemical Society (JACS henceforth)

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'.

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