Methyl Branched Alkanes

Twenty-one of the twenty-four cuticular hydrocarbons with known biological activity are methyl-branched alkanes (Nelson 1993). These were functioning as sex pheromones, kairomones and anti-aphrodisiacs. In the last 10 years the number of methyl-branched cuticular hydrocarbons suspected to be involved in chemical communication continues to grow e.g. colony recognition in Polistes wasps (Dani et al. 2001) and fertility signal in ants (Endler et al. 2004). Although numerous studies identified methyl-branched alkanes thought to be involved in various aspects of communication, it has been very difficult to prove this with bioassays. Synthesising these compounds is currently difficult and laborious. Furthermore, establishing the chirality of an isomer and subsequent synthesis of the correct isomer is difficult. However, the diversity of identified methyl-branched alkanes is far greater than any other group of cuticular hydrocarbons (Martin and Drijfhout, in press), since not only can the chain length vary, but also the position and number of the methyl groups along the chain, all of which alter the molecular structure. This diversity makes them prime candidates as signalling compounds.

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