Sunday, January 8, 2012

Blatellaquinone


I worked on a really fun honors project for my Chemistry class last semester.

Over the course of two seven hour lab sessions, my teacher and I synthesized blatellaquinone, the organic compound that German cockroaches (Blatella germanica) use as a sex pheromone. It was really neat to learn how organic compounds can be altered by breaking off portions of them and attaching new structures. That wasn't the best part, though.

After we finished making the powdery compound, we tested it on male and female B. germanica to ensure we made it properly. As we expected, the female roaches didn't react at all, but the males went absolutely crazy. They were running in circles and even waving their abdomens around in mating displays. It was pretty cute.

Things got even more interesting as we tried the compound on other, very distantly related species of roaches. When we tested it on hissing roaches (G. portentosa), we were surprised to see the males ignore it and the females react strongly. It seems that hissers still use the same blatellaquinone compound to signal for mating, but the gender that uses it has switched somewhere in their evolutionary lineage.

We also tested it on Halloween hissers (E. javanica). The females ignored it, but the males went insane. To our amusement, they even started humping the vial we placed it inside of. Talk about ready for action!

I had tons of fun with this project, but really wish I had more roach species at home to test the compound on. That said, I did save it. So in the future, when I have adults of a new species, I'll probably break it out and see how they react. My curiosity is really piqued thanks to this simple assignment!

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