Judith X. Becerra
I am a chemical ecologist interested in how different organisms use chemistry to interact with each other and how their chemical interactions structure ecological communities and impact species diversity.
One of my current research themes focuses on the formation of defensive alkenals in the Giant Mesquite Bug (Thasus neocalifornicus), an insect that is abundant on the grounds that surround the Biosphere 2 facility. This insect is one of me most stunning insects of the Sonoran Desert. Nymphs are a striking red, white, and black and when perturbed, they release a squirt of a strong malodorous secretion that contains 2-alkenals. These compounds are very toxic against all organisms due to their high reactivity. Our work has shown that at biologically relevant concentrations even large predators such as tarantulas and mantids die when exposed to these compounds. Because in the human brain 2-alkenals are overwhelmingly associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and atherosclerosis these studies will contribute to a deeper understanding of formation of chemicals that are involved in neurodegenerative disorders.
Chemical Composition and Biological Activities of Fragrant Mexican Copal (Bursera spp.) . Gigliarelli, G., Becerra, J. X., Curini, M., and Marcotullio, M. C. (2016): Molecules 20(12): 22383-22394.