ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.December 28, 2004


This week's Alchemist reports on how the humble Christmas tree might help arthritis sufferers and how an X-rayed mistletoe extract could lead to a novel anticancer treatment. A new material for storing hydrogen that might drive the hydrogen economy forward is also to be found in the research pipeline, while magnesium atoms form an axle to propel a luminescent paddle-shaped molecule. Finally, Canadian scientists have observed a single electron orbital in a single molecule using a femtosecond laser.

Canadian scientists have for the first time imaged a single electron orbital in a molecule. David Villeneuve of the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa used femtosecond lasers to take a snapshot of an electron orbital in a nitrogen molecule on a timescale of just 30 x 10-15 seconds. Their technique is so fast it can also resolve chemical processes such as dissociation, explains Villeneuve. He and his colleagues are now working on imaging the orbital as the molecule breaks apart. Such incredibly rapid and sensitive analytical techniques could revolutionize our understanding of reaction mechanisms by allowing researchers to observe individual changes as they happen.

The Scots pine makes a fine Christmas tree, but its bark also yields a compound that could be developed into a food supplement for easing the pain of arthritis. The publication of this finding is timely on two counts not only in terms of the festive season but because of safety concerns about current and recently withdrawn arthritis drugs and the need to find alternatives. Preliminary studies by Kalevi Pihlaja of the University of Turku in Finland show that the highly purified phenolics extracted from the bark of Pinus sylvestris have putative anti-inflammatory properties. There are yet to carry out efficacy and safety tests so there will be no early Christmas present for sufferers just yet.

Indian researchers have obtained the first crystal structure of a novel ribosome-inactivating protein (RIP) from the mistletoe Viscum album. The extract from this particular species of the parasitic plant is efficacious against several cancer cell lines. Tej Singh of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India, and the University of Delhi and his colleagues demonstrated several unique structural features in the molecule that could explain its activity against cancer and in modulating the body's immune response. Their study will hopefully allow medicinal scientists to develop further the concept of mistletoe therapy for various diseases.

Wenbin Lin of the University of North Carolina and colleagues at the United States Department of Energy have developed a prototype material to drive the hydrogen economy forward. The crystalline organo-zinc compound, based on a network of aromatic rings, can trap hydrogen molecules within its highly porous structure. The material can store more than 1% by total weight of hydrogen and release it again. The material's storage efficiency boils down to the interlocking grid of aromatic groups explains Lin. Safe and efficient hydrogen storage materials will be essential to powering vehicles using fuel cells.

A molecule shaped like a paddle has been synthesized by Vadapalli Chandrasekhar and colleagues at the Indian Institute of Technology, in Kanpur, and at the University of Liverpool. The molecule has a linear axis of three magnesium atoms and represents the first compound of its class. Not only is the molecule an interesting shape but it luminesces in solution and in the solid state and so might be useful in creating novel organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs). The team is fine-tuning the chemistry of the molecule to allow them to generate the three primary colors.