News of the year 2008 in the
fields of chemistry and chemistry-related topics like biochemistry,
nantechnology, medicinal chemistry etc.
press releases, scientific research results and summaries of chemistry
articles, that are published in chemistry journals.
Please send us a eMail to publish your press release!
Week 13: 24-Mar-2008 to 30-Mar-2008
Birth of an Enzyme
Scientists succeed in designing artificial enzymes that also undergo 'evolution in a test tube'.
ACS News (open access articles):
New triple-threat weapon needed in war between
man and microbe
Without a breakthrough, microbial
resistance might be inevitable in humanity's struggle against
infectious disease, a medicinal chemist reports. Above is a
color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella
typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells.
Image: Courtesy of National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the NIH
Mankind�s age-old battle against infectious
diseases stands to rage on and on, unless scientists develop a new
generation of triple-action antibiotics, according to an article
scheduled for the March 28 issue of ACS� monthly Journal of Natural
In the article, Lester A. Mitscher presents a
�rather personalized� account of the turbulent tug-of-war between
microbes and mankind, describing past tactics, lessons learned, and a
cautious prediction about the road ahead.
Mitscher notes, for instance, that �miracle drugs�
in the 1940s and �50s failed to live up to expectations. Though
penicillin promised an end to infections worldwide in 1941, reports of
resistant bacteria appeared only a year later. �Significant clinical
resistance is now known for virtually all antibiotics in medical use,�
the article states. �Unfortunately, the problem is getting worse since
big pharma has largely withdrawn from research directed toward new
The review concludes that microbial resistance is
inevitable pending unforeseen breakthroughs. One involves development
of new antibiotics that go beyond killing or slowing the growth of
disease-causing microbes. Those new medications would contain
antimutagenic ingredients that discourage bacteria from mutating into
resistant forms. In addition, they would pack immunostimulants that
enlist the body�s own immune defense system to fight off an infection.
�Continued close observation and exploitation of natural phenomena
appear at present to be the wisest course for scientists to follow in
trying to deal with this problem,� says Mitscher. - AD
Researchers report that Lake
Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world, faces continued
threats of water pollution. It holds more than 1,500 species that
are found nowhere else on earth.
Image by Wikimedia Commons
Despite widespread concerns about preserving the
world�s largest body of fresh water, researchers report that pollution
is continuing in Russia�s fabled Lake Baikal. The study is scheduled
for the April 15 issue of ACS� Environmental Science & Technology, a
The deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal holds 20
percent of the world�s unfrozen freshwater and is home to more than
1,500 species found nowhere else on earth. But compared to other areas
in the world such as North America and Western Europe, little is known
about the regional contamination to plant and animal life from
compounds called perfluorochemicals (PFCs), the article says.
In the study, Hisato Itawa and colleagues measured
levels of PFCs in the livers and sera of Baikal seals - the only
entirely freshwater seal species in the world - and then compared them
to recorded levels in 1992. They found that several chemicals were
elevated to indicate an ongoing source of contamination in the lake.
�Given these results, continuous monitoring of PFCs as well as
dioxin-like compounds in Baikal seals is necessary to assess potential
biological effects of PFCs,� the report says. The researchers noted a
commercially manufactured PFC known as perfluorononanoic acid to be
highest in the Baikal seals. - JS
A chemical �keypad lock� for biomolecular
Researchers in New York are reporting an advance
toward a new generation of ultra-powerful computers built from DNA and
enzymes, rather than transistors, silicon chips, and plastic. Their
report on development of a key component for these �biomolecular
computers� is scheduled for the March 26 issue of ACS� Journal of the
American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.
In the new study, Evgeny Katz and colleagues
describe development of a chemical �keypad lock,� one of the first
chemical-based security systems of its kind. The researchers note that
years of effort have gone into developing biomolecular computers,
which rely on chemical reactions rather than silicon chips to perform
logic functions. Among their uses would be encryption of financial,
military, and other confidential information. Only individuals with
access to a secret �key� - a chemical key - could unlock the file and
access the data.
The research by Katz and colleagues solved one part
of this technological challenge: The security code. They identified a
series of naturally occurring chemical reactions that act as a �keypad
lock.� In laboratory studies, they demonstrated that by adding the
correct series of chemicals, the lock could be opened to access the
computer. On the other hand, adding the incorrect chemicals to the
system acts as a wrong password and prevents access to the computer,
�In addition to the biomolecular security
applications, the enzyme-based implication logic networks will be
extremely important for making autonomous decisions on the use of
specific tools/drugs in various implantable medical systems.� - MTS
CSI fact catching up with fiction as chemists
develop new technology
Real-life crime scene analysis of bloodstains,
fingerprints, and other evidence does not match the speed and
certainty on television shows such as CSI. But thanks to advances in
chemistry, fact is catching up with fiction as researchers develop
faster, more sensitive forensics tools, according to an article
scheduled for the March 24 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS�
The article, written by C&EN Senior Editor Mitch
Jacoby, describes up and coming forensics tools just unveiled at
Pittcon, a major laboratory science conference held earlier this month
in New Orleans. These new tools include a highly-sensitive method for
identifying the specific dyes used to color acrylics, cotton, nylon,
and other types of fibers, a technique that could help distinguish
between fibers that appear similar. Other innovative tools include a
handheld spectrometer for on-site detection of explosives and illegal
drug residues and a long-lasting fluorescent dye solution that allows
a longer, more detailed analysis of bloodstains than do conventional
The popularization of forensics on television has
also spurred a new appreciation for this science among college
students and the general public, the article suggests. But instant
crime-solving remains the stuff of fiction. �Real chemists can�t
always come up with solutions quite that fast. But they�re working on
it,� Jacoby notes in the article.
Researchers discover how stealthy HIV protein gets into cells
Scientists have known for more than a decade that a protein associated with the HIV virus is good at crossing cell membranes, but they didn�t know how it worked. A multidisciplinary team from the University of Illinois has solved the mystery, and their findings could improve the design of therapeutic agents that cross a variety of membrane types.
Researchers report that cheese
from yaks could be healthier than cheese from dairy cattle. When
compared to cheddar cheese, yak cheese contained higher levels of
several healthful fatty acids.
Image by The National Oceanic and
In a finding likely to get cheese lovers talking,
researchers in Nepal and Canada report that yak cheese contains higher
levels of heart-healthy fats than cheese from dairy cattle, and may be
healthier. Their study is scheduled for the March 12 issue of ACS�
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.
Producers make the cheese from the milk of yaks.
Those long-haired humped animals are fixtures in Tibet and throughout
the Himalayan region of south central Asia, Mongolia, and a few other
countries. Yak cheese has only recently become available in the United
States and is available in select gourmet food stores. Studies by
others have shown that certain types of dairy-derived fatty acids,
particularly conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), may help fight heart
disease, cancer and even diabetes. However, little was know about the
fatty acid composition of yak cheese.
In the new study, Brian W. McBride and colleagues
compared the fatty acid composition of yak cheese from Nepal with that
of cheddar cheese obtained from Canada. They found that levels of CLAs
were four times higher in the yak cheese than the dairy cow cheese.
Levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are healthy for the heart,
were also significantly higher in the yak cheese, the researchers say.
Toward the next generation of high-efficiency
plastic solar cells
Researchers in the United States and Austria report
an advance toward the next generation of plastic solar cells, which
are widely heralded as a low cost, environmentally-friendly
alternative to inorganic solar cells for meeting rising energy demands.
Their study is scheduled for the March 19 issue of ACS� Journal of the
American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.
Alan J. Heeger and colleagues point out that
plastic solar cells, fabricated from bulk heterojunction materials
comprising semiconducting polymers and fullerenes, have already
demonstrated promising performance. However, researchers do not
understand how to control the nano-scale morphology and are looking
for ways to optimize the solar cell performance for practical use.
Heeger, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2000 for his
pioneering research on conducting polymers, is widely recognized for
his ongoing efforts to improve solar cell efficiencies.
In the new study, Heeger and colleagues found that
adding a class of chemicals called alkanedithiols as processing
additives improves both the morphology and the solar cell
performance.They showed that by utilizing alkanedithiols as processing
additives, the efficiency of the plastic solar cells increased from
3.4 percent to 5.1 percent, among the highest efficiencies achieved to
date for this type of solar cell. �These data provide a better
understanding of correlation between the nano-scale morphology of the
bulk heterojunction film and the solar cell performance,� the report
A new industrial-scale process for making big
molecules with a big future
Enormous molecules called
dendrimers could serve a variety of functions, including improving
drug delivery to materials. Scientists report a method to
manufacture them on an industrial scale for the first time.
Image by The American
Scientists are reporting discovery of a new method
that will enable manufacturers to produce industrial-size batches of
dendrimers for the first time. Dendrimers are giant molecules with
tree-like branches with a range of potentially valuable commercial and
industrial applications. The study is scheduled for the March 21 issue
of ACS� monthly Journal of Organic Chemistry.
Dendrimers can be produced in custom-designed
shapes, sizes, structures and weights suitable for specific uses.
Those potential applications range from drug delivery and gene
transfer to new materials, coatings, sensors, and herbicides. But
because they require multiple steps to make, dendrimers are difficult
to produce on an industrial scale.
In their new study, Abdellatif Chouai and Eric E.
Simanek describe a practical large-scale synthesis of dendrimers that
sidestep this barrier. Their method yields a so-called �uncommitted
intermediate,� a dendrimer scaffolding that can be built upon in
countless ways. This intermediate �can be elaborated into a wealth of
diagnostic and therapeutic dendrimers - some of which are currently
being explored in our laboratory,� the researchers add.
New aspirin-like substances may provide safer
way to fight heart disease
Researchers in Italy report development of a new
group of aspirin-like substances that may be safer and as effective as
conventional aspirin for fighting heart disease, the leading cause of
death in the developed world. Their study is scheduled for the March
27 issue of the ACS� Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
Physicians have known for years that daily
low-doses of aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, reduce the risk of
developing heart attacks and stroke in some people. However, prolonged
use of aspirin can damage the stomach lining, causing bleeding and
ulcers that can be life-threatening. A safer form of aspirin is needed,
In the new study, Alberto Gasco and colleagues
designed a new form of aspirin by attaching a special chemical
structure - called a nitrooxy-acyl group - that allows the drug to
resist breakdown by stomach acidity while promoting its absorption by
the blood. In laboratory tests using animal models, the new
�aspirin-like� substances showed anti-inflammatory activities similar
to regular aspirin and caused reduced or no damage to stomach tissue
in comparison to equivalent amounts of regular aspirin. Some molecules
also reduced platelet aggregation and promoted artery expansion, which
are hallmarks of improved heart health, the researchers note.
Coal reemerges as important raw material in
chemical manufacturing industry
With oil prices hovering around $100 per barrel,
coal is reemerging as a key raw material in the manufacture of the
basic chemical materials used to make plastics, fertilizers, and
hundreds of other products, according to an article scheduled for the
March 17 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS� weekly news
The article, written jointly by C&EN Senior Editor
Alex Tullo and Hong Kong-based senior correspondent Jean-Francois
Tremblay, notes that coal has been used in the chemical manufacturing
industry since the 19th century. Over the years, oil and natural gas
gradually eclipsed coal to become the raw materials of choice for
manufacturing a wide range of high-volume chemicals. But these days,
the high prices of oil and natural gas have given coal - which costs a
fraction of the price of crude oil - a substantial cost advantage, the
Coal�s potential as a raw material is greatest in
China, the United States, and India, the article points out. These
countries have about half the world�s coal reserves. Coal can be
transformed into a gas and subsequently into basic chemical
ingredients like ethylene and propylene that are used in the
manufacture of hundreds of products, according to the article. Coal
�is a relatively cheap feedstock,� declares one expert cited in the
article. �It certainly has the ability to compete in today�s world.�
Despite 25 years of research, development of an
�electronic nose� even approaching the capabilities of the human
sniffer remains a dream, chemists in Germany conclude in an overview
on the topic. Their review of R&D on digital noses is in the current
issue of ACS� monthly journal Chemical Reviews.
In the article, Udo Weimar and colleagues describe
major advances that have produced olfactory sensors with a range of
uses in detecting certain odors. Electronic noses excel, for instance,
at picking up so-called �non-odorant volatiles� - chemicals that
mammalian noses cannot pick up like carbon monoxide. Ideally, however,
an electronic nose should mimic the discrimination of the mammalian
olfactory system for smells - reliably identifying odors like �fruity,�
�grassy� and �earthy� given off by certain chemicals. Until electronic
noses become more selective, their roles probably will be limited to
serving as valuable tools for tasks such as monitoring air quality and
�The electronic nose has the potential to enter our
daily life far away from well-equipped chemical laboratories and
skilled specialists,� the article states. �Keeping its limitations in
mind and adapted for a special purpose, this will be the future for
the electronic nose for as long as the ability to smell odors rather
than detect volatiles is still far away over the rainbow.� - AD
Thirsty hybrid and electric cars could triple
demands on scarce water resources
Electric and hybrid vehicles
could raise water consumption in the United States. Scientists are
reporting that cars driven with electricity consume about three
times more water than those with gasoline.
Image by Austin Energy
Eco-minded drivers in drought-prone states take
note: A new study concludes that producing electricity for hybrid and
fully electric vehicles could sharply increase water consumption in
the United States. It is scheduled for the June 1 issue of ACS�
Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.
In the study, Carey W. King and Michael E. Webber
note that policy makers often neglect the impact that fleets of hybrid
and electric vehicles could have on already-scarce water resources.
They calculated water usage, consumption, and withdrawal during
petroleum refining and electricity generation in the United States.
Each mile driven with electricity consumes about three times more
water (0.32 versus 0.07-0.14 gallons per mile) than with gasoline, the
�This is not to say that the negative impacts on
water resources make such a shift undesirable,� King and Webber
emphasized. �Rather this increase in water usage presents a
significant potential impact on regional water resources and should be
considered when planning for a plugged-in automotive economy.� - AD
Researchers develop more computer-aided drug design
Researchers in Germany report an advance toward the
much awaited era in which scientists will discover and design drugs
for cancer, arthritis, AIDS and other diseases almost entirely on the
computer, instead of relying on the trial-and-error methods of the
past. Their study is scheduled for the March 24 issue of ACS� Journal
of Chemical Information and Modeling, a bi-monthly publication.
In the report, Michael C. Hutter and colleagues
note that computer-aided drug design already is an important research
tool. The method involves using computers to analyze the chemical
structures of potential drugs and pinpoint the most promising
candidates. Existing computer programs check a wide range of chemical
features to help distinguish between drug-like and nondrug materials.
These programs usually cannot screen for all features at the same
time, an approach that risks overlooking promising drug-like
In the new study, researchers describe a more
gradual and efficient system. Their new program uses an initial quick
screen for drug-like features followed immediately by a second, more
detailed screen to identify additional drug-like features. They
applied this new classification scheme to a group of about 5,000
molecules that had previously been screened for drug-like activity.
The new strategy was more efficient at identifying drug-like molecules
�whereby up to 92 percent of the nondrugs can be sorted out without
losing considerably more drugs in the succeeding steps,� the
researchers say. - MTS
Residential oil boilers raise health concerns
for Northeastern U.S.
Residential oil boilers, such as
the one shown above, are used frequently to heat homes in New
England. A recent study suggests more attention should be paid to
their emissions, which could cause asthma and other health
Image by Roger McDonald,
Brookhaven National Laboratory
New research suggests that residential oil boilers,
commonly used for home heating in the northeastern United States,
should receive more attention as sources of air pollutants. The study
- the first to identify certain specific air pollutants in home
heating oil emissions - is scheduled for the April 1 issue of ACS�
Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.
Homes in the New England and Central Atlantic
States consume about 80 percent of the 25 billion gallons of home
heating oil burned in the United States. Scientists have been aware of
potential public health effects of those emissions. However, there has
been little specific information about the nature of the emissions.
Michael D. Hays and colleagues tackled that
knowledge gap in their new study, which aimed to obtain improved or
missing pollutant information for the popular home heating source.
Among the substances of concern identified in the study were fine
particulate matter known to cause asthma, bronchitis, and other health
problems. �The residential oil burner is a source of numerous
hazardous air pollutants and ultrafine particles and, hence, may
warrant more attention in the future than it has received so far,� say
The research was conducted as part of a long-term
national research program designed to better characterize particulate
matter and its chemical precursors. The results are used to improve
source emissions inventories and support efforts to determine how
specific sources contribute to pollutant concentrations measured in
the atmosphere. - AD
Funding cuts jeopardize cleanup of nuclear waste
The Federal Government may need at least 20 years
longer than previously planned - and an additional $50 billion - to
clean up radioactive and hazardous wastes at nuclear weapons sites,
according to an article scheduled for the March 10 issue of Chemical &
Engineering News, ACS� weekly newsmagazine.
The article, written by C&EN Senior Editor Jeff
Johnson, cites a new U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) audit of its
operations estimating that clean-up costs may reach $305 billion at
about 25 sites where nuclear weapons materials were manufactured.
That�s more than $50 billion above the Bush Administration�s earlier
estimate. The audit also indicates that it may take until 2062 to
finish the cleanup job, over 20 years longer than originally scheduled.
Still, the clean-up budget proposed this year by
the Bush Administration is $5.5 billion, one of the lowest since the
massive remediation effort began in the 1980s. The budget cuts may be
particularly hard felt at large cleanup sites such as Washington
State�s Hanford Nuclear Site, the most contaminated nuclear site in
the country, the article suggests. Some officials fear that the cuts
could delay cleanup of Hanford and other sites indefinitely.
Rusty Worms in the Brain
Nanomineralization of iron: Does the iron transporter transferrin play a role in neurodegenerative diseases?
Researchers visualize complex pigment mixtures in living cells
In a technical advance that could allow researchers to watch cells as they act during the process of photosynthesis, scientists have developed a method that extends the power of fluorescence-mediated bio-imaging to see discrete pigments inside live cells of bacteria.
Gold can be magnetic on the nanoscale
Physicists found that gold in this size regime can be made magnetic through oxygenation of gold nanowires. They also found that up to a certain length, oxygenated gold nanowires behave as a conducting metal, but beyond that, they become insulators.
A nano-sensor for better detection of Mad Cow
In an advance in food safety, researchers in New
York are reporting development of a nano-sized sensor that detects
record low levels of the deadly prion proteins that cause Mad Cow
Disease and other so-called prion diseases. The sensor, which detects
binding of prion proteins by detecting frequency changes of a
micromechanical oscillator, could lead to a reliable blood test for
prion diseases in both animals and humans, the researchers say. Their
study is scheduled for the April 1 issue of ACS� Analytical Chemistry,
a semi-monthly journal.
Prions are infectious proteins that can cause
deadly nerve-damaging diseases such as Mad Cow Disease in cattle,
scrapie in sheep, and a human form of Mad Cow Disease called variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Conventional tests are designed to detect
the proteins only upon autopsy and the tests are time-consuming and
In the new study, Harold G. Craighead and
colleagues describe a high-tech, nano-sized device called a
nanomechanical resonator array. The device includes a silicon sensor,
which resembles a tiny tuning fork, that changes vibrational resonant
frequency when prions bind. Its vibration patterns are then measured
by a special detector. In experimental trials, the sensor detected
prions at concentrations as low as 2 nanograms per milliliter, the
smallest levels measured to date, the researchers say. - MTS
The incredible, hypoallergenic egg: New process
to help egg-allergy sufferers
People who suffer from egg allergies may soon be
able to have their quiche and eat it too. Chemists in Germany and
Switzerland report development of a new process that greatly reduces
allergens in eggs and may lead to safer, more specialized food
products for individuals with egg allergies. Their study is scheduled
for the March 12 issue of ACS� Journal of Agricultural and Food
Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.
Although unusual in adults, egg allergies are among
the leading food allergies in infants and children. These allergies
can cause severe stomach aches, and rashes. In extremely rare cases,
death may occur. As a result, physicians advise those with egg
allergies to avoid eggs or egg-based products. Some researchers have
tried to reduce allergens in eggs, especially the pasteurized egg
product (consisting of shelled eggs) widely used in the food industry.
Until now, however, those efforts have been largely unsuccessful.
In the new study, Angelika Paschke and colleagues
describe their process, which exposes raw eggs to a combination of
high heat and enzymes to break down their main allergens. The
researchers then tested their reduced-allergen egg against blood serum
collected from people with egg allergies. The modified egg product was
100 times less allergenic than raw egg, the scientists say. It does
not significantly affect flavor and texture when used in various
products, they add. - MTS
Promising new material for capturing CO2
Scientists and engineers in Georgia and
Pennsylvania are reporting development of a new, low-cost material for
capturing carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of coal-fired electric
power plants and other industrial sources before the notorious
greenhouse gas enters the atmosphere. Their study is scheduled for the
March 19 issue of the ACS� Journal of the American Chemical Society, a
In the new study, Christopher W. Jones and
colleagues point out that existing carbon capture technology is
unsuitable for wide use. Absorbent liquids, for instance, are energy
intensive and expensive. Current solid adsorbents show promise, but
many suffer from low absorption capacities and lack stability after
extended use. Stronger, longer-lasting materials are needed,
The scientists describe development of a new solid
adsorbent coined a hyperbranched aminosilica (HAS) that avoids those
problems. When compared to traditional solid adsorbents under
simulated emissions from industrial smokestacks, the new material
captured up to seven times more carbon dioxide than conventional solid
materials, including some of the best carbon dioxide adsorbents
currently available, the researchers say. The material also shows
greater stability under different temperature extremes, allowing it to
be recycled numerous times. - MTS
Steel forged railroads, skyscrapers and the
automobile industry. Now it may help solar energy become cheaper and
more widely available. In a study scheduled for the March 20 issue of
ACS' weekly Journal of Physical Chemistry C, Finnish scientists report
an advance in replacing the single most expensive component of a
cutting-edge family of solar cells with less costly material.
These so-called �nanostructured dye solar cells (DSCs)�
are a relatively new family of photovoltaic devices. Their simple
manufacturing methods are hoped to lead to lower production costs
compared to conventional solar cells. Traditionally, DSCs are
deposited on conductively coated glass sheets which accounts for more
than 30 percent of the material costs. Preparing DSCs on flexible
stainless steel sheets is one way to reduce the costs and also to
enhance mass production, according to Kati Miettunen and colleagues at
the Helsinki University of Technology. Uncertainties existed, however,
over the performance and stability of stainless steel photovoltaics.
In the new study, researchers describe construction
of DSCs with stainless steel components and tests of the devices�
performance. �It was shown that relatively high efficiencies can be
obtained with DSC deposited on stainless steel substrate,� the study
said. Subsequent work will investigate the durability of the stainless
steel components and make further improvements in these promising
solar devices. - AD
Money and creative freedom draw researchers to
elite German research institution
With Germany�s Max Planck Society (MPS)
establishing a biomedical research institute in the Sunshine State � a
development that could help turn Florida into a Silicon Valley for
biotechnology � an article scheduled for the March 3 issue of Chemical
& Engineering News, ACS� weekly newsmagazine, provides readers with a
behind the scenes look at this elite institution. The move represents
the first time that an MPS site has been established in the United
States, the reports says.
C&EN�s cover story by Associate Editor Sarah Everts
notes that MPS operates a $2.5 billion annual budget to support
cutting-edge, non-university research. Since its establishment in
1948, the group�s scientists have won 17 Nobel Prizes, including
Gerhardt Ertl�s 2007 prize in chemistry. The Society has also funded
key research into the development of improved polymers and high-tech
light microscopy. Like the U.S.�s Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a
wealthy nonprofit foundation that fund�s some of the nation�s top
researchers, MPS has made a name for itself by giving exceptional
researchers free reign to do creative and risky research.
Recently, MPS announced that it would establish a
new biomedical branch in Florida. The new institute will focus on
�devising non-invasive imaging methods to visualize molecular
properties of biological tissue,� the article notes. Like the Sunshine
State, MPS is keeping the future of research looking bright.