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Challenging natural products succumb to radical synthetic prowess, the Alchemist hears this week, while US researchers find a way to construct macroscopic crystals from tiny DNA triangles. The growing problem of obesity drug abuse in the UK is highlighted in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Bayer Cropscience is going underground with storage for safety reasons. Also this week, Korean chemists have developed a scrubber for cleaning up the greenhouse. Finally, this week's award is represented by big NSF grants to Rutgers University for sustainable energy developed using nanotechnology and biotechnology.

Erythromycin is a challenging synthetic target and so represents a test-bed for new organic synthesis techniques. Now, Christina White and graduate student Erik Stang of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, have devised a radically different approach to the big ring of this antibiotic structure. Writing in Nature Chemistry, the team describes the first use of a highly selective C-H oxidative macrolactonization to create the core structure, in a new total synthesis of the erythromycin precursor, 6-deoxyerythronolide B. "This unconventional endgame should enable structural diversification, potentially leading to novel erythromycin antibiotics after glycosylation," Ian Paterson of the University of Cambridge told C&EN.

Ned Seeman, from New York University and colleagues have succeeded in creating triangles of DNA that self-assemble into macroscopic crystals. The team, which was originally looking for a way to crystallize proteins and other biological molecules, hopes they can extend the technique to structure determination in drug design and molecular electronics. The crystals are made up of sub-units called DNA tensegrity triangles, which consist of three DNA helices formed into a triangle. "Not only can we get this one motif in sequence to self-assemble, but there are eight other crystals that we report in the paper," says Seeman.

The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology reports that under-18s for whom anti-obesity drugs are not licensed are being prescribed these products nevertheless. The number of young people receiving prescriptions for these drugs has increased fiftenfold since 1999, the journal says. However, most children stop using them before they could expect to see any benefit, according to the study. "It's possible that the drugs are being given inappropriately, or that they have excessive side-effects that make young people discontinue their use, " says Russell Viner of the General & Adolescent Paediatrics Unit at University College London. "On the other hand they could be expecting the drugs to deliver a miracle 'quick fix' and stop using them when sudden, rapid weight loss does not occur."

Bayer Cropscience is to cut production of methyl isocyanate (MIC) at its West Virginia chemical plant where two workers were killed in an explosion last year. MIC is the compound released at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984, which killed thousands. The proximity of the Bayer explosion to the above-ground MIC tank led the federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board to make recommendations to the company. Now, as part of a $25 million safety upgrade, the plant will eliminate all above-ground storage of MIC within a year. Federal officials said the move would "lessen the risk to the public and the work force."

A new, highly porous material that can soak up carbon dioxide efficiently and with high selectivity has been developed by Korean chemists. The material might be used as a scrubber to sequester the greenhouse gas from factories and power generation plants burning fossil fuels. Myunghyun Paik Suh and Hye-Sun Choi of the Seoul National University, in the Republic of Korea, have developed highly selective carbon dioxide capture materials from flexible three-dimensional coordination polymer networks. They report details in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Two NSF grants worth $6.4 million have been awarded to Rutgers University to fund graduate research in clean and sustainable energy resources using biotechnology and nanotechnology. The National Science Foundation has also awarded Rutgers up to $1.25m to extend previous NSF-funded graduate research to benefit undergraduate and graduate students throughout the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Specifically, Rutgers will collaborate with Princeton University on using nanotechnology for clean energy generation. It will also work with universities in Brazil, China and South Africa, and elsewhere in the U.S, to find ways to replace environmentally harmful fossil fuels with renewable, economically sustainable fuels.