Method devised by UC Riverside scientists isolates new chemicals that could be exploited to control pest species
Most insects are covered with a thin layer of hydrocarbon molecules as a waterproofing barrier. Embedded in this layer are compounds that the insects use as chemical signals for a wide variety of functions such as communicating species and sex. In insects such as ants that live in colonies, they also differentiate the different castes (e.g., workers, queens, and drones).
But isolating these chemicals and determining their absolute configuration and functions has been a challenge because the chemicals occur in complex mixtures which are hard to separate.
Now a team of entomologists and chemists at the University of California, Riverside has devised a straightforward method for purifying these compounds that could result in new "green" methods of controlling pest species, like ants, by disrupting the organization of their colonies.
The researchers devised a technique that combined known fractionation methods with reverse phase high performance liquid chromatography - powerful tools in analysis. Specifically, they used their method to isolate 36 pure hydrocarbon molecules from the complex blends of 20 randomly chosen species in nine insect orders, so that these compounds could be conclusively identified, and the effects of the individual chemicals could be tested.
"In so-called social insects that live in large colonies, such as ants and bees, these chemicals have additional functions," explained Jocelyn G. Millar, a professor of entomology and chemistry, whose lab led the research team. "The queen in these colonies, for example, uses the chemicals to prevent her workers from laying eggs of their own, ensuring that she remains the only reproducing female in the colony."
The efforts of his research team were complicated by the fact that these chemicals can occur in right-handed (R) or left-handed (known as S, from sinistro, the Latin word for left) forms. Moreover, Millar and his colleagues did not know whether some insects produce the R form and others produce the S, or whether they all produced one form.
"This is critical information for biological activity, because if you have the wrong form, it is like trying to put your right hand into a left-hand glove," Millar said. "The wrong form of the chemical will simply not fit into its biological receptor."
His team was able to solve this problem by showing that all 20 insects that were tested had, regardless of species, sex and life stage, the R form of these chemicals.
"This suggests strongly that nearly all insects are likely to produce the R form of these chemicals," Millar said. "Knowing this will be of great help in unravelling what these signals do and how they work."
Study results appear online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Millar was joined in the research by Ph.D. chemistry student Jan E. Bello and entomologist J. Steven McElfresh. The study was partly funded by a grant to Millar from the Hatch Project of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The University of California, Riverside is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.
Iqbal Pittalwala | EurekAlert!
Magic number colloidal clusters
13.12.2018 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Record levels of mercury released by thawing permafrost in Canadian Arctic
13.12.2018 | University of Alberta
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...
What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.
Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
13.12.2018 | Life Sciences
13.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
13.12.2018 | Earth Sciences