ChemWeb Newsletter

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The rules have changed regarding photosynthetic law, The Alchemist learns this week, while it turns out that plants use steroid hormones just like those found in mammals. Another type of plant could lead to a novel anticancer drug. In polymer news, an approach to locking in plasticizers could eradicate problems associated with PVC in toys and medical devices. Dutch scientists have looked at the smallest chunk of graphite in the form of the coronene molecule and explained its phantom bands. And, finally, chemistry often gets a bad press, but when chemists attempt to lighten the mood they get criticized for dumbing down, the RSC offers a riposte to complaints from those who disapprove of its publicity stunts.

The Royal Society of Chemistry has, for several years, attempted to garner publicity for the chemical sciences using some outrageous stunts, such as dressing up celebrities, creating the perfect Yorkshire pudding and most recently offering a reward for a sample of British beer not drunk since the 1970s. Needless, to say the publicity stunts have come in for some criticism from members and the media itself. Publicity manager, Brian Emsley, recently offered a riposte to the critics and explains how even light news is good news when it comes to chemistry.

Researchers have shed new light on the underlying quantum mechanics of one life's most critical processes, photosynthesis. Greg Scholes and colleagues at the University of Toronto, Canada, have observed quantum mechanics in action in marine algae. The team was astonished to observe clear evidence of long-lived quantum mechanical states during energy transfer processes. "Our result suggests that the energy of absorbed light resides in two places at once - a quantum superposition state, or coherence - and such a state lies at the heart of quantum mechanical theory."

Guido Pauli of the University of Illinois, Chicago and colleagues, have for the first time isolated small quantities of the mammalian steroid hormone, progesterone and novel sulfates of progesterone-like compounds from plants and identified its presence definitively using mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy. Earlier research had hinted at the presence of this compound in Mexican yams and walnut tree leaves. Progesterone has several roles in mammalian physiology, it is not yet clear what its biochemical role might be in plants.

A Chinese herbal remedy from celastracaea shrubs has been used for centuries to treat fevers, chills, joint pain and inflammation. Now, Ahmed Chadli of the Medical College of Georgia has demonstrated that an active extract named celestrol could have a role to play in cancer treatment by inactivating a protein required for tumor growth. Chadli and colleagues at the Mayo clinic have found celestrol to be a selective inhibitor of the P23 protein involved in enabling heat shock protein 90 (hsp90) to facilitate cancer growth. Earlier leads have not been so specific and interfere with normal biochemistry associated with P23 potentially causing severe side effects.

Irish and German researchers have discovered that the soil bacterium Pseudomonas putida can eat pyrolyzed oil from waste polystyrene to produce the biodegradable polymers PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates). Kevin O'Connor of University College Dublin and colleagues there and in Germany have demonstrated that an engineered microbial strain can convert petroleum-based plastic waste into a reusable biodegradable form. O'Connor suggests that a similar process might be used to convert other types of discarded plastics into PHA. PHA is commonly used in medical materials and devices and for making plastic kitchenware, packaging film and other disposable items. It is resistant to hot liquids, greases and oils, but unlike polystyrene, it readily breaks down in soil, water, septic systems and backyard composts.

Anomalies in the spectra of this archetypal fragment of graphene or graphite could lead to new insights into astrochemistry and the development of more down to earth materials for future nanoelectronics. Petar Todorov and Leonardus Jenneskens of the Chemical Biology and Organic Chemistry department at Utrecht University, in The Netherlands working with colleague Joop van Lenthe in the Theoretical Chemistry Group have investigated coronene's infrared and Raman spectra and suggest that this nominally flat molecule deviates from the planar in such a way as to produce phantom bands in its spectra.