Birth control for male cockroaches

From San Francisco, at the spring national meeting of the American Chemical Society

The next time a male cockroach checks into a roach motel it might be surprised to find family-planning services included.

In what may be the first step toward developing cockroach birth control, Cornell University entomologists Zhimou Wen and Jeffrey G. Scott identified several genes for a family of enzymes, called P450 proteins, that German cockroaches use to break down insecticides and other toxic compounds.

The researchers found one of the P450 proteins in the reproductive system of male cockroaches, Wen announced.  The researchers don’t yet know what the protein does. The new P450 could regulate hormone levels in the male cockroach, says Scott. Or, if the male passes the enzyme along with its sperm, it might help protect newly fertilized eggs by breaking down pesticides in the female.

Cockroaches that eat bait laced with an inhibitor of the newly discovered protein might be sterilized, at least temporarily, Scott says. Cockroach contraceptives are still a long way off, though. “I don’t think you’ll see this on your store shelves in the next year or two. It’s more of a 5- or 10-year thing,” Scott says.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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