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The Alchemist goes naturally powerful this week as we learn how wood might be used to make flexible and green batteries. A marine antibiotic succumbs to an immense synthetic effort. Computers could work backwards to design novel templates for synthetic zeolites. Dutch chemists loop the loop when investigating an ancient enzyme. Geochemists spot a noble link in a crusty mineral. Finally, novel drugs for a common type leukemia are now being sought.

A sliver of wood coated with tin could make a truly green battery, according to Liangbing Hu, Teng Li and colleagues writing in the journal Nano Letters. The team has exploited the absorbancy of wood fibers as a flexible support for holding mineral-rich water, as an electrolyte in an experimental sodium-ion battery. Replacing lithium with sodium offers a way to build more environmentally benign rechargeable batteries, the authors suggest.

Chemists at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona have synthesized and characterized baringolin, a marine antibiotic thiopeptide that holds promise for treating bacterial infections resistant to standard drugs. Team member Xavier Just-Baringo points out that this was a tough task as the compound has 128 possible configurations. We have been able to make it in 39 synthetic steps, explains Just-Baringo, who gave the compound its name! There is only one thiopeptide antibiotic on the market but that is used only in veterinary practice. This relatively new class of compounds of which there are about 100 known members so far, offer a new avenue for finding compounds that might defeat so-called super bugs.

US chemists have developed a computational method that chemists can use to tailor the properties of zeolites. Michael Deem of Rice University and colleagues have developed a computational procedure of the course of three years that allows them to identify small organic molecules that might be used as templates for the synthesis of novel zeolite-type porous compounds. Several million tonnes of usually natural zeolites are used annually by the petrochemical and other industries. Generating designer synthetic zeolites for highly specific applications, catalysis, sensors and separations. Importantly, their approach should allow chemists to take full chiral control of the new materials.

Chemists in The Netherlands have for the first time identified and analyzed an enzyme comprising two interlocking rings - a catenane, in other words. There are no previously known examples of such supramolecular structures in biology, the team, led by Jasmin Mecinovic of Radboud University, in Nijmegen, reports. The amazing enzyme was identified in a microbial archeon from mudpots in smoking, volcanic fumaroles in Italy. These microbes obtain their energy by converting carbon disulfide intro hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide using the enzyme CS2hydrolase. Structural analysis showed that the enzyme has two forms - a single ring structure and the double-ring structure, locked together as hexadecameric catenanes.

It's decades since chemists realized they had misnamed the group of elements that contains xenon, neon, argon etc as inert and renamed them the noble gases. These elements are reluctant to form lasting bonds, but in rare instances, they will do so. Now, geochemists at Brown University in Rhode Island have found that amphibole, a mineral commonly found in oceanic crust will dissolve noble gases. Writing in Nature Geoscience, the team explains that it is the unoccupied ring structure of the mineral's crystal lattice that allows it to soak up and bind to noble has atoms. The team alludes to their finding offering a possible explanation for how the noble gases are cycled between the atmosphere and the depths of the Earth.

The most common form of leukemia in the Western world might soon be under attack from scientists at the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) who are to receive more than $1.4 million from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health to work on new drugs to treat the malignant cells that cause chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).