Volatile and bioactive compounds in opercula from Muricidae molluscs supports their use in ceremonial incense and traditional medicines
Nongmaithem, BD, Mouatt, P, Smith, J, Rudd, D, Russell, M, Sullivan, C & Benkendorff, K 2017, 'Volatile and bioactive compounds in opercula from Muricidae molluscs supports their use in ceremonial incense and traditional medicines', Scientific Reports, vol. 7.
Muricidae molluscs are the source of a valuable purple dye that was traded as a luxury item in the Mediterranean region and by the late Byzantine was reserved for royalty and priests. Less well known is the use of muricid opercula in sacred incense and traditional medicines, although they are still used as rare ingredients today. This study provides the first chemical assessment of opercula from Muricidae, based on several traditional preparation procedures. Chemical analysis of opercula smoke revealed aromatic phenols, which act as fragrance stabilisers and produce a "medicinal" odour. Analysis of lipid extracts revealed pharmaceutically active compounds, including brominated indoles, choline esters and adenosine, consistent with their traditional medical applications. Depending on the preparation procedures, toxic pyridine was also detected. ICP-MS analysis of muricid opercula shows the presence of essential macro and microelements, as well as metals, some of which exceed the recommended safe levels for human use. Nevertheless, these findings support the Muricidae as an historically important marine resource, providing Biblical dyes, medicines and perfume. The opercula contains biologically active compounds and produces smoke containing volatile scent compounds, consistent with their identification as the most likely source of onycha, a controversial ingredient in sacred incense.