Molecule of the Week
February 13, 2017
I might be the link to discovering a human pheromone. What molecule am I?
The allure of pheromones tantalizes scientists in many fields. What can be more intriguing than chemicals produced by animals with the sole purpose of changing the behavior of fellow creatures? Researchers have cast their nets widely to identify the chemistry of pheromones, and often, the results are surprising.
(E)-2-Methyl-2-butenal is a conjugated unsaturated aldehyde. Its structure is that of the more familiar crotonaldehyde with an additional methyl group. It is a colorless liquid with a boiling range of 116–119 °C. Synthetic (E)-2-methyl-2-butenal is used primarily as a source of a four–carbon-atom chain in organic synthesis.
In 2003, French researcher Benoist Schaal and colleagues discovered that the compound is a mammary pheromone used by lactating female rabbits to guide their young toward the breast. More recently, Schaal’s group observed a similar attraction between the breast secretions of lactating women and their infants.
There are other suspected pheromonal attractions between men and women. Although no specific human pheromone has been identified to date, the search goes on.
Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, di-n-butyl phthalate, methylparaben, and hexabromocyclododecane are all former Molecules of the Week. Last month, Janet Pelley wrote in ACS Central Science that these and many other commercial products are principal components of common household dust. (A similar article appears in this week’s C&EN.) The alarming aspect of these findings is that all of these compounds are toxic, primarily to the human reproductive, hormonal, and nervous systems.
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