November 2006



The active ingredient of the morning-after pill – mifepristone, or RU-486 – prevents the formation of mammary-cell tumours in mice with a mutation in the breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA1, report scientists in California. The study might lead to new therapies for the prevention of breast cancer in women with mutations in BRCA1. Normally, the BRCA1 protein plays a role in DNA repair and tumour suppression in breast and ovarian tissues by interacting with hormone receptors.

Now, Eva Lee and colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, have shown that BRCA1 promotes the degradation of the receptors for progesterone, a hormone that promotes cell proliferation in the mammary glands of rodents and humans and plays an important role in pregnancy and menstruation.

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Fresh on Chemistry World today:

A material that mimics bone could be used to simultaneously mend and numb the pain of broken limbs, say scientists in South Korea.

A microchip method to reliably determine taurine levels in energy drinks has been developed by scientists in the Netherlands. Better get that Red Bull tested …

And finally:
Relatively little is currently known about levels of nanoparticles (less than 100 nanometres in diameter) found in urban areas, so a team of UK researchers have now measured nanoparticles in the air at an urban roadside in the morning and evening rush hours. The team noticed the particle size distribution changed significantly through the day, reflecting the contribution of different formation processes. For example, in the early afternoon, when radiation from the sun is at a maximum, a large proportion of sub-eleven nanometre particles were present. This suggests that they are formed by photolysis. During rush hour periods, however, larger particles characteristic of direct vehicle emissions were dominant.

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Dylan Stiles loves his solvents like children – even the naughty ones …

Read more here.

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Chemistry has always been the most secretive of sciences, argues Philip Ball

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Derek Lowe looks at the story behind the growing investment by western companies in medicinal chemistry research in China …

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The amazing colours of butterflies are not there simply for the delight of lepidopterists, report researchers in the US and UK who have characterised the molecular composition and optical properties of pigmented nanoscopic granules found in the tiny wing scales of the pierid butterfly, Pontia protodice.

Pontia protodice puts on a display

Pontia protodice puts on a display

 

Not only do these granules contain UV absorbing pterins, but the structural arrangement and density of granules in each wing scale combine to affect just how much light is reflected. Male pierids have more granules per scale than females, so when it comes to mating, the females could simply be dazzled by the light reflected from males’ wings.

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The vice-chancellor who suggested closing the University of Sussex chemistry department earlier this year has announced he is to step down.

Alasdair Smith said that he would leave in August 2007, following ‘careful reflection over the summer’. He had originally planned to serve a second five-year term as vice-chancellor, which would have run until August 2008.

Smith said he had decided on an earlier departure so that a new vice-chancellor could be installed in the academic year 2007-08, ‘an important year of opportunity for Sussex’, when the next national Research Assessment Exercise is scheduled.

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German chemical giant BASF is awaiting EU approval for commercial cultivation of one of its latest breakthroughs, an inedible potato called Amflora. Unappealing as it sounds, the GM spud will make a key contribution to renewable resources across Europe, says Thorsten Storck, global project manager at BASF Plant Science. The crop has been modified to produce a type of starch useful in paper production.

The company claims that Amflora starch will have economic and environmental advantages over standard potato starch, which contains a mixture of 80 per cent amylopectin and 20 per cent amylase. Both these compounds are glucose polymers, but they have very different physicochemical characteristics.

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Chemists at Harvard University have succeeded in synthesizing the antibiotic moenomycin A from scratch. They hope that by providing easier access to this molecule and its variants, they might aid the development of new antibiotics based on its structure.

Moenomycin A inhibits a crucial step in the synthesis of the peptidoglycan material which is used to build bacterial cell walls. It does this by inhibiting transglycosylase enzymes, which are only found in bacteria – this specificity could make it a very useful drug.

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A miniature pump that beats spontaneously has been constructed by Japanese nanotechnologists. The device, only five millimetres in diameter, uses heart cells to provide the power, rather than an external energy source, making it of potential value in medical implants.

Implants usually rely on batteries, which are inconvenient for patients. Now, thanks to the efforts of Takehiro Kitmori and colleagues at the University of Tokyo, the prospect of battery-free implants is in sight. Using heart muscle cells, which contract and extend spontaneously, they were able to construct a miniature pump, without the need for an electrical power source.

Micro-spherical heart-like pump

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