The Stevens Institute of Technology studies the features of the bombardier beetle. The scientists name it as a miracle of the nature, equipped with amazing chemical reactions. When that insect is frightened, fantastic reactions occur in its body. The beetle forms a complex cocktail of aromatic chemicals that are sprayed like a machine gun in the form of the toxic fumes. The explosion of toxic chemicals occurs under high pressure and does not harm the insect itself.
But it is able to kill enemies and burn human skin. The scientists are wondering: what caused the beetle to develop such a complex multi-step defense system? The answer lies in evolutionary processes.
Atula Attygalle, one of the researchers, believes that the science was able to explain the method of biosynthesis of chemicals in the beetle for the first time. With the support of colleagues from the University of California, a deuterium was used. That is a rare hydrogen isotope. It is used for marking specially synthesized chemical mixtures.
Beetles were injected with chemicals labeled with deuterium. In parallel, the isotope was mixed into insect feed. Then two beetles were placed in a cooling chamber, and then they were removed before the beetles became irritated by the external factors.
The researchers previously suggested that two toxic benzene-like chemicals called benzoquinones found in beetle sprays are metabolized from hydroquinone, a toxic chemical. In humans, it can cause complex cancers. It turned out that only one bug has an explosive mixture formed from the hydroquinone.
The second - from m-cresol, a toxin found in coal tar. The scientists were surprised by the special organism of insects, that is capable of processing very powerful toxins. In future studies, they intend to trace the further supply chain of beetle chemicals to find out how they biosynthesize them from natural components. It will help to understand how other insects, which nature has awarded a poisonous mixture, exist.