Chemical Isolation, Quantification, and Separation of Skin Lipids from Reptiles.


Department of Biology, James Madison University; [Email]


Reptiles signal to conspecifics using lipids in their skin, primarily to enable mate tracking and assessment. The isolation of these lipids has utility in research focused on evolutionary patterns and mechanisms of chemical communication, in addition to understanding the waterproofing role of lipids in the evolution of terrestrial life. In an applied approach, such skin-based cues have potential use for wildlife managers dealing with invasive species. The main steps for quantifying reptile skin lipids in the protocol presented here include extraction, total lipid determination, and fractionation via column chromatography, the latter process resulting in purified eluates of compounds which can then either be analyzed to assign compound identifications (e.g., gas chromatography-mass spectrometry [GC-MS]) and/or used directly in more refined bioassays. Skin lipids can be extracted from living skin, shed skin, or dead whole animals, using nonpolar organic solvents (e.g., hexane, benzene, toluene). Extraction solubilizes the lipids and, then, the solvent can be evaporated to yield a measurable lipid-only extract. Fractionation involves the separation of the total lipid extract into specific eluates via traditional column chromatography. The total lipid extract is first bound to a substrate-based column (e.g., alumina) and, then, individual eluates ("fractions") of solvent at specific volumes are passed sequentially through the column to elute sets of compounds from the lipid mixture based on common polarity. The fractions progress in polarity at a standardized sequence by increasing the relative amount of polar solvent (e.g., diethyl ether) in nonpolar solvent. In this manuscript, we describe several methods for extracting skin lipids of reptiles and, then, provide a standard protocol for isolating different sets of compounds based on polarity, using traditional column chromatography. Whole lipid extracts or specific fractions can, then, be used in bioassays to determine any biological activity elicited by the compounds therein.

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