ChemWeb Newsletter

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The Alchemist this week learns of a new inhibitor for a brain hormone receptor associated with cocaine addiction and a new approach to mass spectrometry could improve the chances of finding physiologically active compounds hidden in organisms. A breathing organometallic capsule mimics a viral shell and can adsorb molecules bigger than its normal pore size while white wine is revealed to be almost as guilty as red in staining teeth. In synthetic chemistry a new approach to quickly producing bespoke carbohydrates leads to a new startup company out of Iowa Stateand finally, this week's social news is the appointment of UCB chemist Graham Fleming to the position of campus vice chancellor of research.

A peptide found in the brain could provide a new clue to treating cocaine addiction. The peptide, melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH), is a natural appetite stimulant and blocking its receptor in the brain, MCH1R, could help control behavior associated with reward and motivation. Olivier Civelli of the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues have now investigated an inhibitor of MCH1R known as TPI 1361-17, with some success in laboratory rodents. However, this compound does not cross the blood-brain barrier in people, so either an alternative delivery method or an analog that does needs to be found before an effective treatment can enter clinical trials.

Desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (DESI-MS) reveals that a simple red seaweed uses 28 different chemical weapons to defend itself against a single fungal attack. The work, carried out by Julia Kubanek and colleagues at Georgia Tech, might one day be used to develop novel pesticides or offer pharmaceutical leads for a wide range of human conditions. "Plants and animals in the wild use chemistry as way to fight with one another," explains Kubanek, "Using this new [analytical] technology, we can listen in on this fight and perhaps learn from what's going on and steal some of the strategies for human applications."

Achim Müller and colleagues at the University of Bielefeld, Germany, have spent many years designing and synthesizing sophisticated inorganic and organometallic supramolecular structures based on molybdenum oxide building blocks. Now, they have produced an artificial capsule with pores that can open and close in a breathing motion. The capsule, reminiscent of a viral shell, could be used to selectively adsorb small molecules that are bigger than the pores at normal size and so trap them within for catalytic, sensor, and separation applications.

Red wine, coffee, tobacco, all great teeth de-whitening agents, but what about white wine? Not guilty, surely? Well, if you thought, the pearly whites of Chardonnay fans were safe from staining think again. "The acids in all wine create rough spots and grooves that enable chemicals in other beverages that cause staining, such as coffee and tea, to penetrate deeper into the tooth," explained Mark Wolff from the New York University College of Dentistry at the International Dental Research Association meeting in Miami during March. Red wine causes more staining than white white wine, but both attack the surface of the teeth leaving them more susceptible to the action of other chromogens.

A new approach to synthesizing carbohydrates that could have applications in medicine, the food industry, and research, has been developed by Iowa State University chemists Beatrice Collet and Nikki Pohl. Their patented approach could supply researchers with custom sugar molecules on demand within 24 hours as opposed to 12 months. Startup company Lucelle Biosciences Inc has been established to exploit the new chemical technology. The approach has been likened to advances in DNA synthesis during the last few years and could lead to rapid developments in research and carbohydrate-based vaccines.

Graham Fleming, a chemistry professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and former deputy director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was appointed campus vice chancellor for research, on April 1. His new Office will administer all federal, state and private research funds received by the campus and oversee museums and research units. "Research goes on in every component of campus, and that includes the social sciences and humanities; we shine in these areas, too," Fleming says. "At Berkeley, we have excellence across the board, and it will be my job to provide support to help our entire academic research community continue this tradition of excellence."