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Around 540 million years ago, the first burrowing animals, worms, evolved and started to dig into the floor of the oceans. In so doing they stirred up the sediments in a process known as bioturbation affecting the ocean's phosphorus cycle and altering the amount of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. That's the conclusion of researchers at the University of Southern Denmark. “Our research is an attempt to place the spread of animal life in the context of wider biogeochemical cycles, and we conclude that animal activity had a decreasing impact on the global oxygen reservoir and introduced a stabilizing effect on the connection between the oxygen and phosphorus cycles," explains team member Richard Boyle. The team linked data from the fossil record to well-established connections between the phosphorus and oxygen cycles in a computer model to draw their conclusion.

The compound 10,13-epoxy-11-methyl-octadecadienoate, a 19-carbon furan-containing fatty acid (19Fu-FA), has many potential uses not least as a bio alternative to chemicals currently derived from fossil fuels. Now, a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has identified the genes in Rhodobacter sphaeroides responsible for its biosynthesis. "We've identified previously uncharacterized genes in a bacterium that are also present in the genomes of many other bacteria," says Tim Donohue. "So, we are now in the exciting position to mine these other bacterial genomes to produce large quantities of fatty acids for further testing and eventual use in many industries, including the chemical and fuel industries."

The compound TC-2153 inhibits the negative effects of a protein called STtriatal-enriched tyrosine phosphatase (STEP), which is key to regulating learning and memory. As such it has potential as a therapeutic agent for Alzheimer's disease. Now, researchers at Yale School of Medicine have shown that the drug, found through screening thousands of molecules, reverses the brain deficits of Alzheimer’s disease in a mouse model of the disease. “Decreasing STEP levels reversed the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in mice,” explains Yale's Paul Lombroso. "The small molecule inhibitor is the result of a five-year collaborative effort to search for STEP inhibitors," said Lombroso. "A single dose of the drug results in improved cognitive function in mice. Animals treated with TC compound were indistinguishable from a control group in several cognitive tasks."

Olafs Daugulis of the University of Houston, Texas, is one of ten scientists to receive this year's American Chemical Society (ACS) Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award. The award recognizes and encourages excellence in organic chemistry and includes a $5000 award, a certificate, and a $40000 unrestricted research grant. Daugulis receives the award, “For the development of transition metal-catalyzed carbon–hydrogen bond functionalization reactions and their practical applications in organic synthesis.”

A molecule's behavior depends on its environment, that much is known. Now, Andrei Tokmakoff of the University of Chicago and colleagues have extended ultrafast two-dimensional infrared spectroscopy with the spatial resolution of microscopy to map these microscopic environments using the vibrations of molecules. The technique offers data on vibrational dynamics that traditional microscopy lacks, while adding spatial information that infrared spectroscopy alone can't provide. It could be useful in investigating the crucial biochemical process of protein folding in which the chains of amino acids generated by transcription adopt their functional form.

Jongheop Yi of Seoul National University and colleagues have demonstrated that the carbon-containing material of a used cigarette filter, the butt, can outperform other synthetic carbon materials, including graphene, as an energy storage medium with a single processing step. It is estimated that 5.6 trillion cigarette butts (about 766 571 tonnes) are deposited into the environment every year and while retrieving them might represent a significant logistical challenge, the potential for re-purposing this waste is high. “Our study has shown that used cigarette filters comprising cellulose acetate can be transformed into a high-performing carbon-based material using simple pyrolysis," says Yi. The process converts the butt into a porous supercapacitor material, which the team has tested in a three-electrode system. “A combination of different pore sizes ensures that the material has high power densities, which is an essential property in a supercapacitor for the fast charging and discharging," adds Yi.