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Once again, the Alchemist is looking for the green option, with carbon dioxide set to become a feedstock for acrylate. In efforts to combat malaria we learn that resistance is not futile after all. Europeans have found a way to make thin films of organic molecular magnets, while US researchers reveal that the Lyme disease pathogen needs no iron to survive. Shape-shifting polymer gels morph into view this week too. Finally, young British scientists are heading to London to be judged by politicians.

A cheaper and more sustainable way to make the commodity acrylate from carbon dioxide rather than oil has been developed by researchers in the US. Wesley Bernskoetter of Brown University and colleagues there and at Yale University have shown how they can break open five-membered rings formed between carbon dioxide, ethylene from biomass and a nickel catalyst using Lewis acids. This facilitates an elimination and formation of acrylate. We thought that if we could find a way to cut the ring chemically, then we would be able to eliminate very quickly and form acrylate, explains Bernskoetter. And that turns out to be true.

The Medicines for Malaria Venture, a large international group working on new pharma to combat this deadly parasite has announced a new antimalarial compound active against Plasmodium at different stages of its lifecycle. This property might make it able to resist the emergence of resistance in the disease. Michael Riscoe and his colleagues at the Oregon Health and Science University, USA, are part of MMV. The drug, ELQ-300, targets parasitic mitochondria, the primary function of which is to produce the pyrimidine building blocks for DNA rather than the more familiar powerhouse function of our cells. The new drug inhibits pyrimidine synthesis halting parasite reproduction.

Researchers at the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Tuebingen, Germany and the University of Florence, Italy, have taken the first steps towards thin film organic magnets, which could have a wide range of applications as memory chips in everyday electronic gadgets as well as sophisticated lab-on-a-chip systems. Organic magnets side step the metallic component of classical magnets but are not always stable and certainly not amenable to formation as thin films until now. For the first time, the scientists used a standard thin-layer production process for organic compounds and applied it to the formation of a thin film of paramagnetic NitPyn - a pyrene derivative of the nitronyl nitroxide radical (4,4,5,5- tetramethyl-2-(pyrenyl)imidazoline-1-oxy-3-oxide - on a gold surface. The thin films proved stable even during evaporation and deposition.

The Borrelia bacteria that cause the potentially debilitating Lyme disease spread by biting ticks are the first organism to be identified as not requiring iron to survive. Instead, the bacteria utilize manganese in their enzymes, which means they do not succumb to the systems in our immune system that attempt to kill pathogens by starving them of iron. The discovery made by a collaboration involving scientists at Johns Hopkins University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Texas could lead to novel treatments for this infectious disease that has become widespread across the Northern Hemisphere.

Gel sheets morph into different three-dimensional forms in response to various stimuli, such as changes in pH or salt concentration, according to researchers in Canada and colleagues in the US. The University of Toronto’s Eugenia Kumacheva, Zhihong Nie of the University of Maryland, and their teams have programmed a polymer hydrogel to adopt multiple shapes. To make their mighty morphing material, the team made a thin layer gel with one type of monomer and added a second monomer solution together with a cross-linker. A photoinitiator is also added to trigger polymerization under UV light. A mask can be used to control the pattern of exposure. The approach thus allowed the team to make a multiple different stimuli-responsive polymer networks within the same object.

Two young chemists from the University of York, England, will present details of their research to Members of Parliament in March as part of the SET for Britain competition aimed at promoting early-stage researchers. Post-doc William Unsworth (29) will discuss his work on improving organic synthesis while graduate student Stephen Bromfield (24) will talk about heparin rescue agents as alternatives to the widely used drug protamine. They will join dozens of other young scientists shortlisted from hundreds.