ChemWeb Newsletter

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This week, volunteer work gets rewarded right from the top at the American Chemical Society, a novel approach to coupling unreactive arenes solves a century-old problem, sidesteps several synthetic steps and cuts down on waste, while a Stanford chemist reveals a PUG that can hack the PubChem database. Also, this week The Alchemist discovers that forests of nanotubes can be bundled together like so many logs in a molecular scale timberyard and new European regulations on chemicals came into force at the beginning of June, but may not reach consumers for years. Finally, yet another answer to the problem of binge-eating and obesity, a synthetic version of the hormone amylin gives positive rewards in the latest clinical tests.

Thomas Netzel is to be honored for services to the American Chemical Society. Netzel, a professor of biophysical chemistry at Georgia State University, will receive the 2008 ACS Award for Volunteer Service, which was first bestowed in 2001 to recognize significant contributions to ACS activities by a volunteer member. C&EN reports that Netzel was stunned to receive the congratulatory call from ACS President Catherine Hunt. "There were many people who worked equally hard who could have been picked for this award," he said, "I am honored to represent all the other hardworking volunteers."

For a century, chemists have toiled over unreactive arenes, hoping to find effective and efficient ways to couple them into the biaryl building blocks of myriad pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and liquid crystals. Superb catalysts have emerged but they suffer from one of two drawbacks: they either require one of the pair of arenes to be modified to activate it, or else they produce metal chloride byproducts that are a nuisance and an additional expense to dispose of. Now, David Stuart, of the University of Ottawa working with Keith Fagnou, has used palladium with a copper oxidant, to catalyze the cross-coupling of N-acetylindoles and benzenes with minimal fuss and in good yields. The discovery could be extended to a wide range of biaryl skeletons for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

A power-user gateway, PUG, is now available for users hoping to send automated or batch queries to NIH's Pubchem molecular entities database. PUG offers an XML (eXtensible Markup Language) methodology for querying Pubchem's channels without simply "scraping" the information off results pages. According to Richard Apodaca of Stanford University, PUG provides the "basic foundation for building a variety of innovative and useful cheminformatics web services." He points out that before this can happen, chemists and their coding colleagues will have to develop at least one high-level application programming interface (API) in the commonly used languages of cheminformatics including Ruby, Python, and Java. "With these APIs in hand, what kinds of applications will result?" asks Apodaca, "Imagination," he adds, "is now the only barrier."

A new approach to prepared carbon nanotubes and then packing them into tight bundles could lead to more efficient computer chips and perhaps even allow 3D stacked chips to be built by sidestepping unwieldy copper interconnects. James Jiam-Qiang Lu and colleagues at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute realized that carbon nanotubes were never going to outperform copper in the conductive stakes unless they could be densified. They have now discovered that immersing vertically grown carbon nanotube bundles into an organic solvent and then drying them leads to capillary coalescence, which literally pulls sparse nanotubes together into dense bundles.

Europe's new regulator system for chemicals, REACH, Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and restrictions of Chemicals, came into force at the beginning of this month concomitantly with the inauguration of the European Chemicals Agency based in Helsinki. REACH aims to protect human health and the environment and at the same time encourage innovation across the chemical industry in the European Union. Critics, however, say that it will be many years before consumers see any changes to countless household goods such as detergents, cosmetics, and plastic products.

Pramlintide, a synthetic version of the satiety hormone amylin could be used to help people who are overweight curb the desire to eat high-fat foods and sugary foods and to curb binge eating. Amylin itself is produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. Now, a six-week study of 88 obese individuals administered the synthetic form has demonstrated a significant reduction in daily calorie intake and meal sizes. The results are reported in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism by Christian Weyer of Amylin Pharmaceuticals in San Diego, California. "The findings of our clinical study further suggest that satiety hormones such as amylin can exert multiple effects on human eating behavior," he says, "such as reduced intake of highly-palatable foods and reduced binge eating tendency."