Chemists Find New Way to Create ‘Building Blocks’ for Drugs

A new way to prepare biaryls – compounds that are essential building blocks in the creation of drugs and many modern materials such as LEDs – using gold as a catalyst is described by researchers from the University of Bristol in this week’s edition of Science. Gold catalysis is easier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly than current methods which use palladium as a catalyst.

Over the last two decades, methods for preparing biaryls have relied predominantly on cross-coupling – a method in which two differentially pre-functionalised benzene rings are connected together in the presence of a catalyst, most often based on the precious metal palladium. However, concerns regarding the environmental impact of such processes, arising from use of toxic metals and the requirement for pre-functionalisation of the coupling partners, have led to a search for more benign alternatives.

As a consequence, much recent interest has focussed on replacing one of the pre-functionalised benzene rings with the desired benzene ring itself, a process known as direct coupling.  Despite major advances in this area, most direct couplings still only operate under undesirable conditions, for example strongly acidic solvents, high temperatures, high concentrations of toxic metal catalysts, large excess of one reactant, and so on.

A new reaction employs a low concentration of a gold catalyst to couple a simple aromatic ring with a non-toxic silicon-based partner, to generate biaryls at room temperature and under exceptionally mild conditions.

These conditions then allow many of the structural features required in drug-like molecules to be tolerated; indeed, the group illustrated the applicability of their chemistry through the concise synthesis of diflunisal (Merck & Co.), a non-opiod, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug used for the treatment of chronic arthritis, and for the relief of acute pain following oral surgery.

The appeal of the new direct coupling process is increased still further by the ease with which it can be performed: unlike more traditional procedures, the chemistry is insensitive to the presence of air or moisture, allowing reactions to be assembled on the bench-top without prior purification of reactants and solvents.  The gold catalyst is also cheaper than palladium catalysts, and any gold-residues in the product are considered relatively benign.

How Do Anesthetics Work?

Spanish scientists at the University of the Basque Region and the University of La Rioja have combined mass-resolved electronic spectroscopy and ab initio calculations to model the interactions of anesthetics with proteins. Anesthetics are designed to work as pain relievers by affecting a specific protein in the brain, thereby suppressing pain signal transmittance. “

However, very often there are also undesired interactions with other proteins, which result in secondary effects that sometimes may even lead to the death of the patient”, says Jose A. Fernandez, lead author of a study published recently in ChemPhysChem. “To design new, more specific anesthetics, with reduced secondary effects, it is necessary to have a deep knowledge of how anesthetics interact with proteins.”

The computer modeling needed to gain insights into the working mechanism of these systems is rather difficult. Owing to their non-covalent nature, the interactions that contribute to the final shape of the anesthetic are very small compared to the total energy of the molecule. The methods applied by Fernandez and co-workers on small- or medium-sized systems have allowed them to evaluate the magnitude and quality of different possible non-covalent interactions among a set of selected molecules.

Their approach can even be used to describe very large systems with reasonable accuracy. The mass-resolved detection has yet another advantage: it discriminates between the numerous aggregates formed in the beam, isolating them in different mass channels. Fernández explains: “Several lasers are used to collect data on the structures of the aggregates. These results are then compared with the calculations performed on the system, allowing for the precise determination of the structure of the aggregates.”

In this study, Fernandez and co-workers have focused on the homodimer of the widely used general anesthetic propofol (also known as dispropofol) and its complex with one water molecule. “The calculations predict hundreds of possible conformations for the aggregates—each conformation indicates a different way in which the molecules can interact”, Fernandez says. “

However, the experiments demonstrate that only two [conformations] are stable for the dimer and three for the complex containing water.” Despite the small size and simplified nature of the system studied, the results obtained by this approach provide an accurate simulation of experimental observations, and are an important step towards understanding the many interactions that propofol experiences when injected into a living being.

An Amazing Function Of Date Palm Juice


The search for a “greener” way to prevent corrosion on the kind of aluminum used in jetliners, cars and other products has led scientists to an unlikely source, according to a report in ACS’ journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. It’s the juice of the date palm—those tall, majestic trees that, until now, were noted mainly as sources of food and traditional medicines.


He found that date palm juice inhibited corrosion of an aluminum alloy called AA7075, used in aerospace and other applications, in a salt solution. Gerengi noted that while an extract from date palm leaves is a known anticorrosive, this was the first test of the fruit’s juice. The juice, which he reported adsorbed into the aluminum’s surface, contains a number of sugars. Gerengi posited that these react with aluminum to form an anticorrosive film on the metal’s surface.


The influence of date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) (PDL) fruit juice on 7075 type aluminum (AA7075) alloy in 3.5% NaCl solution was investigated by Tafel extrapolarization and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy. It was found that PDL fruit juice acted as a slightly cathodic inhibitor, and inhibition efficiencies increased with the increase of PDL fruit juice concentration. The adsorption of the inhibitor on the metal surface was found to obey the Temkin adsorption isotherm and has a physisorption mechanism.


Husnu Gerengi points out that strong, lightweight aluminum alloys are used to make planes, cars and industrial equipment. Aluminum corrodes when exposed to air, but unlike rusting steel, the corrosion of aluminum’s surface layer forms a protective film that prevents degradation of the underlying metal. However, that film breaks down in some harsh environments, like seawater, leaving the metal vulnerable. Engineers have developed coatings to protect aluminum in these applications, but many of these use potentially toxic chemicals. Previous research suggested that extracts of date palm leaves had an anti-corrosion effect. Gerengi decided to check date palm juice.

The Chemistry Of Fat In Our Bodies

Talking about fat, did you know that there is chemistry behind the fat in our body too? Yes, this is true, there is chemistry involved behind fats as well. Let us find out more about the chemistry of fat in our bodies.

Most of us are health conscious. Almost every celebrity, magazine, newspaper or television channel are promoting fitness by losing fat and keeping our weight in check. But did you know there is a link between chemistry and fats in our body?

The modern obsession with fats and cholesterol is due to a greater understanding of the role of a group of bio-chemicals known as Lipids. Fats and oils are one type of lipids that are triglyceride molecules and are based on glycerol, which is an organic molecule made up of a chain of three carbon atoms with a hydroxyl (OH) group. Each hydroxyl group in glycerol connects to a long chain molecule known as a fatty acid. This results in a three-tailed molecule, which is called as a triglyceride. During the formation of triglycerides, the resultant fat molecules are totally hydrophobic, i.e. they do not dissolve in water. The human body stores these fats because they are a good source of energy.

Saturated, unsaturated fats and oils refer to the bonding between the carbons and hydrogen in the long chain of the fatty acids. Fats derived from animals have chains that are all bonded with single bonds where all the carbon atoms have hydrogen atoms attached. These are called saturated fats. Since the chains all line up nicely, they are usually solid even at room temperature.

Cis and Trans fats are prefixes that are often seen on nutritional information on food packets. They relate to the shape of the carbon-carbon double bond. If the hydrogen is bonded to the same side of the double bond then it is a cis-bond. If they are bonded to the opposite sides then it is a trans-bond.

Compared to trans-bonds, cis-bonds are easier for the body to break down and are found abundantly in natural vegetable oils. If the oil is heated, they transform into trans-bonds. Oil that has been continually heated and re-heated has a lot of trans-bonds. This is why food cooked in deep fat fryers contains more trans-bonds than those cooked in a frying pan.

So, the next time you hear about fat, don’t blindly believe that all fats are bad. Some are beneficial and almost vital for our body! Just ensure you are consuming the right ones.

The Mystery of Sodium Dodecyl and Laureth Sulfates

Every morning we wake up and the first thing that we do is brush our teeth. But have you ever wondered what do the tube of toothpaste and the bar of soap that we use contain? Well they contain a substance called as SDS. Let us find out more about this substance.

SDS is on your hands and in your mouth too! You wake up every morning and brush your teeth. But have you ever wondered what your toothpaste or a bar of soap contains? Well, they contain a substance known as SDS.

What is SDS?
Sodium dodecyl sulphate (SDS), also known as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), is a
substance found in toothpaste, liquid soaps and detergents and is used for different protein studies in Biochemistry. In its purified state, SDS is a white powder of medium molecular weight (M.W. or F.W. of 288.38, C12H25O4SNa). A modified form of SDS is sodium laureth sulphate (M.W. or F.W. 418.53, C12+2nH25+4nNaO4+nS). Both these compounds have a lot of scientific and household uses.

In the Lab
SDS is used during the protein purification process and is used for studying the
protein molecular weights by a technique called polyacrylamide electrophoresis (PAGE). Proteins are dissolved in a solution of SDS, which is an anionic detergent that binds one SDS molecule to every two amino acid residues in the entire protein molecule.

Sodium dodecyl sulphate (the CAS number is 151-21-3) is a detergent that promotes a linear or a straightened, non-globular configuration of the native proteins. Cross-linking disulfide covalent bonds in the protein are broken by the use of mercaptoethanol (2-thioethanol) or dithiothreitol. These chemical treatments permit different types of proteins, which are characterized and defined according to their specific molecular weight.

In the Home
SDS plays an important role in homes as they have foaming characteristics that are used
in toothpastes, liquid hand soaps and liquid detergents.

Toothpastes commonly contain SDS that helps separate, free and remove food and debris in and around the teeth and gums helping prevent tooth decay and pyorrhea of the gums. Hand washes, liquid soaps and some laundry detergents use SDS to remove dirt and debris.

History Of Hair Dye

Who said that when you grow old, you will turn ugly with grey hair, wrinkles and all? Today, with so many advancements in the cosmetic industry, you can actually look beautiful even if you grow old. You can actually stay as 18 till you die. When hair turns grey, people dye their hair with the shades of their preference. But have you wondered how this hair dye made a debut.

How it all started?
Since ages, people have been colouring their hair using extracts from plants and minerals.
Some of these natural agents contain pigments like those of henna, black walnut shells while others contained natural bleaching agents. It was later discovered that these agents caused reactions that changed the colour of the hair.

Archaeologists found evidence that in places like Neanderthals, people used various things to change the colour of both hair and skin. Ancient Gauls and Saxons dyed their hair with different vibrant colours to show rank and to instil fear in enemies on the battlefield. Babylonian men sprinkled gold dust on their hair. The very first mixtures could only darken the hair, but later different methods were found to bleach the hair blonde, often by exposing the painted hair to sunlight for hours. Throughout history, various means were used to produce a full spectrum of hair dye colours.

Discovery of hair dye
In the 1800s, chemists found a substance called as para-phenylenediamine (PPD, the CAS number is 106-50-3) and
discovered its use in the creation of a synthetic dye. At the same time, it was found that hydrogen peroxide was a gentler and safer chemical as compared to the other chemicals for hair bleaching. These two discoveries paved way for chemist Eugene Schueller, who created the first commercial chemical hair dye, which he called as “Aureole.” This product was later known as “L’Oreal.”

The double-process for dying hair blonde soon followed, and in 1932 hair dye was refined by chemist Lawrence Gelb who created a hair dye that actually penetrated in the shaft of the hair. His company was called as “Clairol.” Later, in 1950, he introduced the first one-step hair dye product that actually lightened the hair without bleaching it. This became a huge hit in the modern era of hair dye and brought in the ability for hair to be coloured at home.

Since then people have been colouring their hair and the demand for a good hair dye hasn’t diminished. Today, we have a galore of hair colour options and different companies offering different products. Truly, today we are definitely spoiled for choice.

Study Shows Why Common Explosive PETN sometimes fails

The explosive PETN has been around for a century and is used by everyone from miners to the military, but it took new research by Sandia National Laboratories to begin to discover key mechanisms behind what causes it to fail at small scales.

“Despite the fact explosives are in widespread use, there’s still a lot to learn about how detonation begins and what properties of the explosive define the key detonation phenomena,” said Alex Tappan of Sandia’s Explosives Technology Group.

Explosives are typically studied by pressing powders into pellets; tests are then done to determine bulk properties. To create precise samples to characterize PETN at the mesoscale, the researchers developed a novel technique based on physical vapor deposition to create samples with varying thicknesses. That allowed them to study detonation behavior at the sub-millimeter scale and to determine that PETN detonation fails at a thickness roughly the width of a human hair. This provided a clue into what physical processes at the sub-millimeter level might dominate the performance of PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate).

The idea is that by understanding the fundamental physical behavior of an explosive and the detonation process, researchers will improve predictive models of how explosives will behave under a variety of conditions.

Right now, “if we want to model the performance of an explosive, it requires parameters determined from experiments under a particular set of test conditions. If you change any of the conditions, those models we have for predictions don’t hold up any more,” said Rob Knepper of Sandia’s Energetic Materials Dynamic and Reactive Sciences organization.

The tests use less explosive than what’s inside a .22-caliber bullet, and researchers wearing safety glasses and ear protection can stand next to the experiment in a protective enclosure, Tappan said.

It adds new information for a very old explosive. “What we brought to the table is a new experiment that allowed samples to be made that are small enough to measure this critical thickness property,” Tappan said. “Other research been done on PETN in a different form or when it had a binder added to it. This is the first time these data have been done on the critical detonation geometry for pure, high-density PETN.

“What we brought to the table is a new experiment that allowed samples to be made that are small enough to measure this critical thickness property,” Tappan said. “Other research been done on PETN in a different form or when it had a binder added to it. This is the first time these data have been done on the critical detonation geometry for pure, high-density PETN.”

Those Insects That Make Cyanide

We all are aware that all animals and plants have their own defence systems that they use against predators. Insects are also included in this category. Many insects are resistant to cyanide-producing plants. Some burnet moths in the family Zygaenidae have even evolved the ability to synthesize the same cyanogenic compounds as their host plants. Let us find out how…

Frequently these compounds are toxic, but herbivores and pathogens of such plants have developed a tolerance to these chemicals. This process is known as co-evolution and can lead to organisms becoming dependent on the plant’s compounds for their own development.

Some toxic compounds that are present constitutively are known as phytoanticipins. Cyanogenic glucosides (Cnglcs) are one class of these compounds. These are inactive compounds that have hydrogen cyanide (HCN) bound to a sugar molecule. They release HCN and when the tissue is damaged, and the compounds interact with a specialized beta glucosidase enzyme. The Cnglc and the beta glucosidase are stored in separate compartments and only meet when the tissue is disrupted, such as by an insect’s chewing.

Insects that feed on a broad array of plants are likely to be deterred by the presence of HCN in a plant. Those that depend on a particular species of plant make cyanide frequently adapted to not only tolerate the HCN, but also to sequester it from the plant. By doing so, these specialized insects can utilize Cnglcs to defend themselves against predators.

Various species of insects utilize Cnglcs that they have sequestered from plants. Several types of insects can synthesize HCN including some species in the orders of beetles, true bugs, and moths and butterflies. Their predators are not adapted to the effect of cyanide, which inhibits the mitochondrial oxidation step of cellular respiration.

Burnet moths are capable of synthesizing hydrogen cyanide (also known as Hydrocyanic acid ). The most well studied system is that of Zygaena filipendulae, the six-spotted burnet moth. This insect makes the same cyanogenic compounds as its host-limanarin and lotaustralin and the most common type of Cnglcs in plants and insects. The larvae also prefer to feed on plants with high amounts of cyanide compared to those that produce little or no HCN.

Females prefer to mate with males that have greater concentrations of cyanide. The males give the Cnglcs to the females as a “nuptial gift” during mating. They transfer the cyanogenic compounds to the females. This extra HCN helps the females better protect her eggs. The Cnglcs are also used as a source of stored reduced nitrogen and sugar for the insects.

History of Lipsticks

Lipsticks are known as a woman’s best friend. No matter what, you are sure to find one of these hidden in every woman’s handbag or closet. We have seen it on almost every woman. We place it on our lips and it does make us more attractive, sophisticated in fact more woman. It is one of things we declare that we are ready to become women.

This cosmetic has been with mankind for quite a while. However, one thing to be noted here is that it did not begin in the early twentieth century or the century before that. The origins of lipstick lie in the mists of time; in the beginnings of human civilization in fact. Let us find out more about this.

Ancient Egyptians also extracted red dye from fungi called as fucus-algin and added 0.01% iodine, and some bromine mannite. However this resulted in serious illness. Cleopatra made her lipstick from crushed carmine beetles, which gave a deep red pigment, and ants for a base.

During the Islamic Golden Age, the notable cosmetologist, Arab Andalusian Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis) invented solid lipsticks, which were perfumed sticks rolled and pressed in special moulds.

By the end of the 19th century, Guerlain, a French cosmetic company, begin manufacturing lipstick. In 1884, the first commercial lipstick was invented, by perfumers in Paris, France. It was covered in silk paper and was made from deer tallow, castor oil, and beeswax.

Later in the same century, lipstick was coloured with carmine dye. Carmine dye was extracted from Cochineal, scale insects that lived on cactus plants. Cochineal insects produced carminic acid which was used to deter other insects. Carminic acid was mixed with aluminium to make the carmine dye.

By the middle of the 1930s lipstick became available in various colours. During the 1940s the rotating push up lipstick was invented. By the end of World War II, lipstick had become one of the most widely used cosmetics.

Lipstick today is made out of many ingredients. There are now in organic types made of castor oil, beeswax (its CAS number is 8012-89-3) and other various natural oils. To many, the history of lipstick seems to have gone full circle.

The history of lipstick has been noted for various innovations in ingredients and contents. There many types of lipsticks today.

Neodymium Super Strength Magnets


Today, we have wind turbines and electric cars. The most used metal in these wind turbines and electric cars is called as neodymium. It is a rare metal but is widely used. Here is an overview of the chemistry and applications of the lanthanide which is a rare earth element neodymium and is a constituent of super-strength magnets that are used to miniaturise electric motors.


Neodymium has a chemical symbol Nd and is an element with the atomic number of 60 which means that the nucleus of each atom has 60 protons. As a pure substance, it has a silvery-grey colour and is one of the most reactive lanthanides. It quickly tarnishes in the presence of air and is found in nature as an ore in minerals such as monazite and bastnasite.

It is the largest constituent of a new type of high-strength magnets that are used to increase the power and also to reduce the size and weight of electric motors. This makes the electric motors indispensible especially for the new generation of hybrid and electric cars, the miniaturisation of hard disk drives, and also for the construction of wind turbines, which also depend on strong magnetic fields to generate electricity.


Neodymium is also an important constituent of the alloy of rare earth metals which is known as “mischmetal” and is used in the flint mechanism of many cigarette lighters.It was first commercially used in the pigmentation of glass. This glass was produced by the inclusion of neodymium oxide and appeared lavender in colour in daylight or incandescent light, but pale blue under fluorescent light. If gold or selenium is also added to the glass, red colours result.


The commercial demand for neodymium has dramatically increased over the recent years due to the discovery of super-strength magnets which is made from an alloy of neodymium with iron and boron (Nd2Fe14B). The alloy was discovered in 1982, by General Motors, Sumitomo Special Metals and the China Academy of Science. This was done in response to the high price of samarium-cobalt magnets which were the first type of rare earth magnets to be commercialised.

X-rays and Vincent Van Gogh’s Painting

With a sophisticated X-ray analysis scientists have identified why parts of the Van Gogh painting “Flowers in a blue vase” have changed colour over time: a supposedly protective varnish applied after the master’s death has made some bright yellow flowers turn to an orange-grey colour. The origin of this alteration is a hitherto unknown degradation process at the interface between paint and varnish, which studies at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility ESRF in Grenoble (France) and at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY in Hamburg (Germany) have revealed for the first time.

The results are published in an upcoming issue of Analytical Chemistry, the first author of which is Geert Van der Snickt, who received a PhD in Conservation and Restauration from the University of Antwerp (Belgium) for this work. The research team was led by Koen Janssens from Antwerp and also comprised scientists from TU Delft (Netherlands), the French CNRS, the Kroller-Müller Museum in Otterlo (Netherlands), the ESRF and DESY.

The cadmium yellow (cadmium sulphide, CdS) used by Van Gogh was a relatively new pigment, of which it has recently been discovered that in unvarnished paintings, it oxidizes with air (to cadmium sulphate; CdSO4) making the pigments lose colour and luminosity. “We identified this process a few years ago, and the observation that instead of a slightly off-white, transparent oxidation layer, the pigments in this painting were covered with a dark, cracked crust intrigued us very much,” says Janssens. “The removal of the orange-grey crust and discoloured varnish was not possible without affecting the very fragile original cadmium yellow paint on these parts,” adds Leeuwestein.

To identify what had happened, the museum took two microscopic paint samples – each only a fraction of a millimetre in size – from the original painting and sent them to Janssens for a detailed investigation. The scientists studied the samples using powerful X-ray beams at the ESRF and at DESY’s PETRA III, revealing their chemical composition and internal structure at the interface between varnish and paint. To their surprise, they did not find the crystalline cadmium sulphate compounds that should have formed in the oxidation process. “It emerged that the sulphate anions had found a suitable reaction partner in lead ions from the varnish and had formed anglesite,” explains DESY scientist Gerald Falkenberg. Anglesite (PbSO4) is an opaque compound that was found nearly everywhere throughout the varnish. “The source of the lead probably is a lead-based siccative that had been added to the varnish,” adds Falkenberg.

Why Does Red Cabbage Change Colour When Cooked?

Chemistry is just not about chemicals in laboratories. It is present in everything that we do in our daily life and also in our kitchens. When we cook this red cabbage, the cabbage changes its colour. Have you wondered how that happens? Let’s find out what happens when red cabbage is cooked.

Red cabbage is one of many fruits and vegetables that contain a class of reddish purple pigments called anthocyanins, which is responsible for its colour. Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid pigment that are responsible for the red, purple and blue colours in most plants, leaves, flowers and fruits. These pigments have a tendency to change colour when mixed with alkaline or acidic ingredients.

Anthocyanins consist of many carbon rings onto which hydrogens are attached. This particular chemical formation allows these molecules to take on two forms. In one form, a hydrogen atom present is attached to the exterior and in the other form it is not. Acidic ingredients are characterized by having more hydrogen atoms (H+) than hydroxyl groups (OH-) so when exposed to acid, anthocyanins grab a hydrogen atom and turns red in colour. In alkaline conditions where there are no excess hydrogen atoms, the molecule appears blue or green in colour.

Anthocyanin turns red in acidic conditions when the pH is less than seven. It is not uncommon for apples or lemon juice to be part of braised red cabbage recipes because they help maintain the its red colour. Common acidic ingredients used in cooking include: 1) Vinegar 2) Lemon juice 3) Citric acid 4) Fruits and fruit juices.

Even baked goods, which frequently use baking soda or baking powder as a leavening agent can discolour fruits and vegetables like red cabbage. An understanding of simple cabbage chemistry will now allows you to adjust the pH of a recipe in order to prevent undesirable discolouration of the food item.

Suncreen From The Sea

King’s College London has entered into an agreement with skincare company Aethic to develop the first sunscreen based on MAA’s (mycosporine-like amino acids), produced by coral.

It was last year that a team led by Dr Paul Long at King’s discovered how the naturally-occurring MAA’s were produced. Algae living within coral make a compound that is transported to the coral, which then modifies it into a sunscreen for the benefit of both the coral and the algae.  Not only does this protect them both from UV damage, but fish that feed on the coral also benefit from this sunscreen protection.

The next phase of development is for the researchers to work with Professor Antony Young and colleagues at the St John’s Institute of Dermatology at King’s, to test the efficacy of the compounds using human skin models.

Aethic’s Sovee sunscreen was selected as the best ‘host’ product for the compound because of its existing broad-spectrum UVA/UVB and photo-stability characteristics and scientifically proven ecocompatibility credentials.

Dr Paul Long, Reader in Pharmacognosy at King’s Institute of Pharmaceutical Science, said: “While MAA’s have a number of other potential applications, human sunscreen is certainly a good place to begin proving the compound’s features. If our further studies confirm the results we are expecting, we hope that we will be able to develop a sunscreen with the broadest spectrum of protection.  Aethic has the best product and philosophy with which to proceed this exciting project.”

Allard Marx, CEO of Aethic, added: “With the recent launch of S?vée we believe that we are already leading the industry. Together with King’s we would like to raise our product benefits to an even higher level using MAA’s. We are very excited about the potential.”

Folic Acid & Vitamin B9

Folic acid is also known as folacin, vitamin M and vitamin B9 and is an essential component in a large number of biochemical processes in the human body. Would you like to have a memory like you had seven years ago? A study conducted by a group of Dutch researchers found that folic acid helpful in improving the memory of a person. Let us find out how this important acid came into being and how it is important in our day-to-day life.

Folic acid is a large organic molecule which has a complicated structure. Its empirical formula is C19H19N7O6. It is not biologically active by itself, but it becomes active when it is converted to dihydrofolic acid and then tetrahydrofolate in the liver.

The chemical is defined as a vitamin because it is a vital component in our diet that we must obtain from food. It is particularly necessary for pregnant women soon after conception because without folic acid the embryo may develop neural tube defects and other developmental disorders. In the late 1990s, US scientists realized that despite the availability of folate in foods and in supplements, there was still a challenge for people to meet their daily folate requirements, which is when the US implemented the folate fortification program.

The function of the folate molecules produced from folic acid is to help in the transfer of one-carbon units (methylation) in a variety of reactions that are critical to the metabolism of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins.

So, the synthesis of DNA from its precursors is dependent on the presence of folate molecules as co-enzymes. They are also necessary in order to prevent the changes to DNA molecules which could lead to the formation of cancers. Folates are also necessary for the formation of several important amino acids like methionine. This helps in preventing a build up of homocysteine which is a precursor of methionine, and a risk factor for heart disease.

So, make sure you include the main sources of this essential nutrient which include green leafy vegetables, sprouts and asparagus. Besides these, legumes such as beans, peas and lentils are also good sources of folic acid and citrus fruit juices and fortified grain products such as cereal, pasta and bread. Folic acid can also be taken as a supplement in tablet form.

Konw How Butanol Affects Our Life

Butanol is a flammable liquid that is used as a fuel and as an industrial solvent. Like gasoline, it is a hydrocarbon, meaning that it is composed of the chemical elements hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. Most internal combustion engines can burn butanol without experiencing problems, especially more modern engines. This fact has led to research into the use of it as a fuel additive and as an alternative fuel.

The interest in butanol as an alternative fuel stems in large part from the fact that it has certain significant advantages over ethanol. For instance, an engine which runs on this hydrocarbon will have an easier time starting in cold temperatures than one which uses ethanol. This is because of a chemical property called heat of vaporization. Fuel must be vaporized before it can be burned in an engine, and butanol can be vaporized more easily at low temperatures than ethanol. It is also much less evaporative than either gasoline or ethanol, and releases more energy than ethanol when burned.

These different chemical structures all have the same chemical formula and components, but have somewhat different properties. One of the isomers, known as tert-butanol, is actually a solid at room temperature, and therefore cannot be used as a fuel by itself. Because of the way it is structured on a molecular level, butanol is considered an alcohol. In practical terms, this means, among other things, that it is able to be dissolved in water, and that it is somewhat toxic, especially if its fumes are not properly contained or are not ventilated. It also exists in several slightly different forms, called isomers.

The production of butanol for fuel was traditionally accomplished by fermenting biomass, such as algae, corn, and other plant materials containing cellulose that could not be used for food and would otherwise go to waste. The fermentation process is facilitated mainly by a type of bacteria called Clostridium acetobutylicum. Oddly enough, these bacteria are rather closely related to those which cause botulism. Other microorganisms are also able to ferment these materials, and research into these types of production techniques is ongoing. More recently, most butanol has been produced industrially from fossil fuels.

Given the advantages of butanol over some other fuels, many wonder why it is not more widely used. The main reason is that the cost of producing and bringing it to the market results in a much higher cost to the consumer than the cost of gasoline, in many cases. Also, while it has a higher energy content than ethanol, it takes quite a bit more raw material to produce it. Some new developments, however, show some promise as being able to dramatically increase the yield of butanol through fermentation.

UA scientists first to look at structure of vital molecule

Molybdenum plays critical roles in all living beings from bacteria to plants to humans. But as vital as this metal is, no one understood the importance of its structure until the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry’s Joel Weiner and his team jumped on the case.

It does not act alone but is found attached to certain proteins, called molybdenum enzymes, by a very large organic molecule. The organic molecule that holds the molybdenum in place in a protein is extraordinarily complex. and “expensive” for the cell to make, b But the structure of this molecule should make sense to scientists now, thanks to Weiner and his research team.

For starters, the research group found that the molecule occurs in nature in two forms based on their appearance – flat or distorted. Weiner’s team was able to show that the distorted form and flat form have very different functions. The distorted molecule plays a role in the transfer of electrons to the molybdenum, whereas the flat molecule prepares and co-ordinates positioning of the enzyme so it can be part of a biochemical reaction.

The distorted form is found in proteins involved in metabolic, respiratory and cardiac diseases. The flat form occurs in a protein required for brain development, and defects in this protein cause death in infancy. Understanding of this flat form could help lead to treatment of this defect.

It all started for Weiner and his research group in the Department of Biochemistry about three years ago. Although scientists worldwide had known the overall structure of molybdenum in proteins for many years, no one understood why it is so complicated. It was a summer student, Matthew Solomonson, who noticed that one of the structures holding molybdenum was very flat while the other group was distorted. As curiosity-based research goes, the summer student and Weiner’s research team wondered if it was significant. The answer is yes.

“When you bring in a new student it’s really good because they have a fresh way of looking at things,” says Weiner of Solomonson who is now a grad student at the University of British Columbia.

Now the team will use protein-engineering techniques to change the protein environment around the molybdenum.

New catalyst to significantly reduce use of precious metals

Honda Motortoday announced the development of a new catalyst which reduces by 50% the use of rhodium, one of the precious metals used in a catalyst. Honda will adopt this new catalyst first to the North American version of the all-new 2013 Accord, which will go on sale in the United States on September 19, 2012, and will continue to adopt it sequentially to other models.

With the backdrop of the increasing volume of global automobile production and the global trend of strengthening emission regulations, the demand for precious metals used for catalyst, including platinum, rhodium and palladium, is expected to continue to increase in the future. Honda has been committed to the effort to reduce the use of precious metals for its catalysts, and has successfully applied a catalyst that does not contain any platinum into practical use with the current model of the North American Accord.

The newly developed catalyst allows palladium to speed up the process of absorption and desorption of oxygen, therefore enabling reduced use of rhodium in the purification of exhaust emissions. The adoption of this new catalyst will reduce overall use of precious metals by 22% (including a 50% reduction in rhodium) compared to the current model of Accord. Moreover, the development of the new catalyst has reduced the cost by 37% while complying with the California state standards in SULEV category of the LEV II regulation, which is one of the strictest emissions regulation in the world.

Harnessing Anticancer Drugs

Medical Systems Virology group at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) at the University of Helsinki, together with its national and international collaborators, developed a new cell screening method that can be used to identify potential anti-influenza drugs. The researchers were able to identify two novel compounds with anti-influenza activity, obatoclax and gemcitabine and prove the efficacy of a previously known drug saliphenylhalamide.

The study was recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and is now available online.

Influenza viruses cause significant human morbidity and mortality. To treat the infections, different virus-directed drugs have been developed. However, the currently available drugs are targeting viral proteins and due to a high mutation rate the influenza viruses quickly develop resistance to them. For that reason, next-generation antiviral drugs should be directed towards the host functions. The results of this study provide a foundation for development of next-generation antiviral drugs. Furthermore, these identified compounds can be used as chemical tools when studying the molecular mechanisms of virus-host interactions.

“An interesting aspect of this study is that the antiviral effects of obatoclax, saliphenylhalamide and gemcitabine, which all are either investigational or approved anticancer agents, are achieved at much lower concentrations than that needed to mediate cancer cell death” said the group leader Denis Kainov.

However, further research is still needed before these drugs can be clinically tested and applied in influenza infections.

This research project is a good example of repurposing of drugs, i.e. finding new applications for existing drugs and thus saving money and time on drug development.

“We anticipate that these types of drugs could in the future reinforce the therapeutic arsenal and address the needs of the society to control influenza outbreaks”, said Olli Kallioniemi, the Director of FIMM.

Ordinary Pen Ink Is Useful For Building A Supercapacitor

A research group in China has discovered that the ink in an ordinary pen makes for a good coating when building a supercapacitor. The team, from Peking University (Beijing National Laboratory for Molecular Sciences) describe in their paper published in Advanced Materials, how they used pen ink to coat carbon fibers as part of a process in creating a supercapacitor that was not only bendable but able to cover a large surface area.

Supercapacitors are energy storage devices that are able to be charged and more importantly, discharged much more quickly than conventional capacitors. They serve as a sort of bridge between conventional capacitors and batteries and are used in applications where a quick change in load is required, such as in balancing electrical grids. The focus of most ongoing research involving supercapacitors centers around trying to bring down costs. Most conventional systems use carbon to carbon electrodes or in some cases metal oxide electrodes, both of which tend to cost a lot. More recent research has focused on graphene or carbon nanotubes because of their unique electrical properties. This new research involved looking at ordinary pen ink after the researchers noted that many types of it just happen to contain carbon nanoparticles.

The researchers built the new supercapacitor by applying the pen ink to dual carbon fibers which were then encased, along with a spacer wire, in plastic and filled with a liquid conducting solution, i.e. an electrolyte. The result was a very thin (millimeter) diameter supercapacitor in the shape of a double wire cable, that could be bent to form a full circle and that could also cover a large area; one gram of ink produced enough of the supercapacitor cable to cover twenty seven square meters of material; all this with little to no loss in performance. They also point out that their supercapacitor is able to hold up to ten times more charge than comparable conventional supercapacitors and outperforms them as well.

Because of the unique properties of the supercapacitor they’ve made, the researchers believe it could be applied to cloth material which would result in wearable electronics such as sensors or even as components in future phones or other handheld devices.

Researchers Devise Simple and Cheap Method to Detect TB

Tuberculosis or TB as it’s become more commonly known, is a horrible disease by all accounts, it slowly kills many of its victims, particularly those living in the developing world. In 2010, it killed an estimated four thousand people every single day, which is particularly horrendous when noting that many of those who succumb to its effects could be have been saved were they to be diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.

Unfortunately, in many areas of the world neither is available, thus the news that a team of researchers working together from several universities in the US has developed a new kind of test that reveals the presence of TB in patients, both quickly and cheaply, is truly exciting. The new probe, as the team describes in their paper published in Nature Chemistry, can allow for TB detection using nothing more than a simple box housing light emitting diodes and some filters.

Up till now, the only way to test for TB in remote patients was to collect a sputum sample and send it to a location that had a microscope, where trained clinicians looked for the TB bacteria. Sadly, this method is not only slow, it’s also relatively inaccurate when there are few bacteria to be seen, such as is the case with infected children. With the new probe, test times can be reduced to mere minutes and accuracy is improved dramatically.

Reducing the amount of time it takes to test for TB not only helps the patient, it helps those around them too because TB is of course, communicable, with some estimating that one infected, untreated person may account for as many as ten or fifteen new infections in others in just one year.

Early diagnosis of tuberculosis can dramatically reduce both its transmission and the associated death rate. The extremely slow growth rate of the causative pathogen, Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), however, makes this challenging at the point of care, particularly in resource-limited settings. Here we report the use of BlaC (an enzyme naturally expressed/secreted by tubercle bacilli) as a marker and the design of BlaC-specific fluorogenic substrates as probes for Mtb detection. These probes showed an enhancement by 100–200 times in fluorescence emission on BlaC activation and a greater than 1,000-fold selectivity for BlaC over TEM-1 beta-lactamase, an important factor in reducing false-positive diagnoses.

Insight into the BlaC specificity was revealed by successful co-crystallization of the probe/enzyme mutant complex. A refined green fluorescent probe (CDG-OMe) enabled the successful detection of live pathogen in less than ten minutes, even in unprocessed human sputum. This system offers the opportunity for the rapid, accurate detection of very low numbers of Mtb for the clinical diagnosis of tuberculosis in sputum and other specimens.