ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.October 18, 2005


In this issue, The Alchemist turns his attention on Nobel laureates, marine antibiotics, molecules of light, growing a DNA forest, and low-energy alloys.

Molecules are not all about atoms, at least according to research from the University of Rostock, Germany, where physicists have created "molecules" using pulses of light. Such light molecules might lead to significant increases in data transfer rates for optical communications technology. The atoms in the light molecules created by Fedor Mitschke and colleagues are temporal solitons, pulses of light that do not dissipate rapidly and retain their shape. These persistent solitons could thus carry data over greater distances without degradation than is currently possible. This is the first time scientists have made temporal solitons stick together to form structures analogous to molecules.

Vertical strands of DNA can be constructed using the enzyme TdTase, terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase, according to US scientists. Ashutosh Chilkoti and colleagues at Duke University start with a forest of short DNA strands on nanoscale patches of gold, lithographed on to a silicon surface. They then employ TdTase and a cobalt catalyst to adds nucleotide building blocks to the tops of the DNA forest, extending the forest canopy. Chilkoti suggests that the development of this and related technology will ultimately enable bio-manufacturing possible at an industrial scale.

Magnesium alloys are being used increasingly in engineering applications because of their relatively low density, which means lower energy consumption. Katsuyoshi Kondoh, Ritsuko Tsuzuki, and Eiji Yuasa of the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Tokyo, investigated the effects of adding Mg2Si dispersoids to magnesium alloys and observed a significant improvement in wear resistance and tribological properties, and reduce friction between the alloy surface and other materials.

Three scientists share this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry which has a distinctly biological flavor. Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko of Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, share the $1.3million prize money with Irwin Rose of the University of California, Irvine, for their discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation. These three researchers swam against the scientific tide of the early 1980s to find an answer to the question, "how does the cell break down its waste proteins?" Their questioning ultimately revealed one of the cell's most important cyclical processes with implications for our understanding of life and the treatment of disease.

Ten new natural products from a seaweed found in the waters off Fiji offer new hope in the fight against disease. Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have demonstrated that these diterpene benzoates have activity against cancer cells, bacteria, and HIV. Indeed, two of them are effective against antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus at usefully low concentrations. Julia Kubanek and colleagues explain that the work is only at the "test-tube level" so far, however, although pharmaceutical giant Bristol Myers Squibb is working with the team on the anticancer potential of several of the compounds.