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A good, old-fashioned total synthesis of a natural product caught The Alchemist's attention this week, as did the notion of spiking the hydrocarbon picene with potassium atoms to turn it into a superconductor. In a related carbon field, Chinese chemists have broken the rules to crack bucky eggs and US scientists have looked to molecular midwifery to help explain the origins of life. In environmental news, the tragic story of BPA is told from the chemical perspective and an award to a Swedish team could help studies of oxygen depletion in the Baltic Sea that might one day lead to a route to remediation.




How did life begin? What endowed the primordial soup of molecules with the property we know as life? Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have discovered that small molecules could have nurtured the building blocks of life's genetic material so that they could grow into the long chains required for information storage and duplication. "Our hypothesis is that before there were protein enzymes to make DNA and RNA, there were small molecules present on the pre-biotic Earth that helped make these polymers by promoting molecular self-assembly," says GATech's Nicholas Hud. Hud calls these unselfish molecules "molecular midwives" because they helped give birth to the organized and self-replicating chemicals from which life is thought to have emerged.





C&EN laments the misinformed activism surrounding bisphenol A (BPA). Rudy Baum writing in The Editor's Blog, points out that BPA has been covered on numerous occasions in the magazine but despite repeated explanations as to the safety concerns and the difficulty in finding acceptable alternatives, the environmentalists still campaign with the precautionary principle in mind. The bottom line is that, "BPA and the polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins that are made from it are useful chemicals that are getting a bum rap from people who don't know what they are talking about," says Baum.





Biogeochemist Daniel Conley of Lund University, Sweden, has received a prestigious award from the American Pew Charitable Trusts that will help fund research into finding technical solutions to help reduce oxygen depletion in the Baltic Sea. The reason for the oxygen depletion in the Baltic Sea is the large input of nutrients from the land to the sea, primarily from agriculture and fossil fuels, which causes significant environmental harm through eutrophication. The $150,000 award to Conley will help finance a three-year scientific evaluation of solutions.





Johann Jauch and colleagues at Saarland University in Saarbruecken and the University of Tuebingen have successfully synthesized myrtucommulone A, a physiologically active compound found in myrtles. Myrtle has been considered a medicinal plant since ancient times and contains several essential oils. Myrtucommulone A has been shown to have antibacterial, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory effects. Having a total synthesis of this compound means analogs can be synthesized much more readily for pharmaceutical screening.





Picene spiked with potassium ions is a hydrocarbon superconductor at a balmy 18 Kelvin, according to scientists in Japan. The discovery could offer new clues to make even hotter superconductors. The work of Ryoji Mitsuhashi and colleagues at Okayama University follows on from earlier work by UK scientists with potassium-spiked fullerenes. The symmetry of picene should not give rise to superconductivity and so the new results open up alternative explanations of the phenomenon in this kind of material.





Fullerenes that contain three-fused carbon pentagons break the rules for those molecules but with a little chlorination can be synthesized nevertheless, thanks to efforts by chemists in China. The synthesis of these unusual molecules could lead to new insights into fullerene chemistry as well as offering new opportunities for synthesizing novel materials. The team at Xiamen University suggest their work could lead to a whole range of rule-breaking fullerenes.