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Physical Chemistry

Ant Battle Yields Ionic Liquid

Chemists identify the first example of a natural ionic liquid by studying the venom of feuding ants

by Bethany Halford
July 28, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 30

A territorial war is raging in North America. Fire ants—Solenopsis invicta, an invasive South American species—are vying for space with tawny crazy ants—Nylanderia fulva, another South American native. Although fire ants possess insecticidal venom, tawny crazy ants appear to have the upper hand, capturing 93% of resources contested between the two species, according to studies. Chemists have concluded that tawny crazy ants are able to detoxify the fire ant venom with their own venom, formic acid. Now, researchers led by James H. Davis Jr. of the University of South Alabama propose that the tawny crazy ants are making an ionic liquid, a salt in the liquid state, during this detoxification process (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2014, DOI: 10.1002/anie.201404402). The chemists mixed fire ant venom with formic acid and found that an ionic liquid formed (one component shown). “Whereas synthetic ionic liquids employing naturally occurring ions are well-known, we believe the present report to be the first to describe a naturally occurring protic ionic liquid,” the researchers note.

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