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This week, The Alchemist learns about molecular manipulations with X-rays, modulating the immune system and brewing up waste water for electrical power, and an animalistic approach to toxicity testing, and graphene-eating silkworms. Finally, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry hoves into view once more with supramolecular chemistry winning once again.

A new approach to testing toxic chemicals that mimics the mammalian sense of smell and taste has been devised by researchers at the University of Leicester, UK. The fluorescent assay combines environment-sensitive dyes and human skin cells to generate spectra akin to particular physiological conditions. The team then uses multivariate data analysis of the optical signals to spot any correlation between sample spectra and toxicity. The approach might thus preclude the need for animal testing in some areas of biomedical research.

Silkworms can spin ingested graphene into strong, conductive reinforced silk, according to research published in the journal ACS Nano Lett. This quasi synthetic biomaterial could find applications in wearable electronics, biodegradable sensors, and medical implants, according to Prachi Patel writing in the ACS's flagship magazine C&EN. Yingying Zhang and her colleagues at Tsinghua University, China, simply fed the silkworms mulberry leaves sprayed with an aqueous solution of carbon nanotubes or graphene and collected the silk from the creatures' cocoons, as is done for conventional standard silk production.

The 2016 Nobel Prize for Chemistry goes to Jean-Pierre Sauvage of the University of Strasbourg, France, British-born Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, of Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA, and Bernard L. Feringa of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. They share the prize for their work on the design and synthesis of molecular machines, the culmination of many years of effort taking us towards nanoscopic devices and systems on a scale akin to the machinery of living cells rather than any manufactured device.

New crystallographic insights happened up in with fullerene studies could have implications for how we obtain and interpret three-dimensional structure data for proteins and other biological macromolecules. Brian Abbey of La Trobe University, in Melbourne, Australia and colleague Harry Quiney of the University of Melbourne report details in the journal Science Advances of how they have demonstrated the emergence of a new crystal form of [60]fullerene when it is exposed to X-rays.

Biological, as opposed to small molecule, pharmaceutical products work when triggering an immune system response in the body. Researchers at Selecta Biosciences have demonstrated how polymer nanoparticles carrying immunosuppressant agents, such as rapamycin, can be used instead of triggers to modulate the immune response in conditions where the immune system is over-reacting to the patient's own tissues, gout and arthritis, for example, and in post-transplant patients, for instance.

A bio-manufacturing process that uses an organism that can be cultivated in brewery wastewater can be used to make carbon-based materials for energy storage cells, according to scientists at the University of Boulder at Colorado. Give that a brewery uses about seven barrels of water for every barrel of beer produced and cannot simply dump it in the sewerage system untreated, the technique offers an alternative and potentially useful cleanup process that would cover its costs unlike costly filtration with no useful end product.