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The old alchemist's trick of attempting to use urine as a starting material for all kinds of products could offer the twenty-first century a golden opportunity, we learn this week, while electrospinning DNA nanofibers might shed white light on new technologies without requiring a naked flame. If the alchemists were searching for everlasting life, then the discovery that a compound from Easter Island is a murine elixir may not come as a surprise. There's also a sweet surprise for lovers of corn who are not persuaded by chemophobics to go "organic." Turns out that the application of weedkiller to sweetcorn boosts the nutritional content of the yellow kernels. The melamine petfood scandal of 2007 and the more recent poisoning of infants in China thanks to adulterated dairy products has been investigated with a novel analytical technique that provides a baseline mark for unaffected children. Finally this week, clean fuels could emerge from a multimillion-dollar investment in the US.

Just as the alchemists of old suspected, urine could be the ultimate starting material for making the fuel of the hydrogen economy and perhaps a wide range of other products. Gerardine Botte of Ohio University and colleagues are not extracting the urine when they suggest that an electrolytic approach to making hydrogen from this ubiquitous waste product is possible at a fraction of the cost of producing hydrogen from water. To break down the urea in urine, a voltage of only 0.37 Volts is needed across an electrochemical cells based on a nickel-catalyst, compared with the 1.23 Volts needed to split water.

A team of researchers at the University of Connecticut and the US Air Force Research Laboratory has used DNA electrospinning to produce nanofibers that incorporate two different fluorescent dye molecules. The structure allows energy to be passed from one dye to the other efficiently - fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET). The color of the resulting fluorescence dependent on the ratio of the two dyes. Writing in Angewandte Chemie, Gregory Sotzing and colleagues explain how they have now produced full-spectrum white light using this approach. The emergence of this and similar devices from the fields of optoelectronics, photonics, and nanoscience could lead to optimized materials for electromagnetic energy manipulation.

Rapamycin a compound derived from soil microbes on Easter Island three decades ago is well known as a potent immunosuppressant used in organ-transplant surgery. Now, the same compound is earning a new reputation as a possible elixir of life ... at least for lab mice. University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and collaborators have found that rapamycin added to the diets of middle-aged mice (600 days being equivalent of 60 years in humans) extended the predicted lifespan of the mice by more than a third in some cases. "I never thought we would find an anti-aging pill for people in my lifetime; however, rapamycin shows a great deal of promise to do just that," says Arlan Richardson, director of the Barshop Institute. This is the first convincing evidence that the aging process can be slowed and lifespan extended by drug therapy starting at an advanced age.

The benefits of so-called organic farming may be counterbalanced by the finding that application of the commonly used weedkiller's mesotrione and atrazine to sweet corn crops boosts carotenoid levels. Zeaxanthin carotenoids found in sweet corn are thought to protect the eye against macular degeneration. Now, Dean Kopsell of the University of Tennessee and colleagues there and at Auburn University, Alabama, and Illinois State University in Normal, have demonstrated that concentrations of these important nutrients might be boosted by 15% 45 days after application of weedkiller.

The insidious poisoning of infants in China and pets in the US over the last couple of years because of contamination of dairy products and petfood, respectively, with melamine, has caused parents and pet owners huge anxiety. Now, I-Jen Wang and colleagues from Taipei Hospital, the Taipei Department of Health, Taipei Medical University and the China Medical University in Taichung, have developed a method based on ultra-performance LC (UPLC) linked to tandem mass spectrometry on a triple quadrupole instrument for analyzing samples for melamine that requires no preparative derivitization step. The technique has revealed melamine in biological samples from Taiwanese children, but also helps establish background levels for melamine in unaffected children.

Catalysts for clean fuels will be the focus of work by David Bruce and colleagues at Clemson University thanks to a multi-university Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) funded with $12.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. The Center for Atomic-Level Catalyst Design (CALCD) is focused on the development of new catalysts for the production of clean fuels and chemicals from renewable sources. "The ultimate goal is to develop new environmentally friendly reaction processes that will help to decrease the nation's dependence on fossil fuels," says Bruce.