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The Alchemist launches into New Year 2015 with an antibiotic breakthrough, purportedly the first major advance in the field in a quarter of a century, offers chilling revelations about body fat and sheds new light on blue LEDs. There is also time for pores for thought with a MOF that says yes to NO and asphalt paving the way to efficient carbon sequestration. Finally, a biannual award from the Royal Society of Chemistry.




Rare is the pharmaceutical discovery that lives up to the headline hype, but a new approach to antibiotic drug discovery by researchers at Northeastern University in Boston, USA, may well lead to a range of antibiotics that are very different from their predecessors and may ward off bacterial drug resistance for some kinds of infection. Kim Lewis and colleagues found teixobactin through their efforts to isolate novel compounds from unculturable bacteria. The drug is most active against Gram positive microbes, Staphy­lo­coccus Aureus, Clostridium difficile and Bacillus anthracis and remains active even in the face of mutations that would normally lead to drug resistance, it is relatively ineffective against Gram negative bacteria. Whether or not this drug or any others found using the team's snappily named "iChip" will work in the clinic and retain their activity against mutant microbes will be the subject of future trials.





It's perhaps not surprising, but University of California Berkeley researchers have demonstrated that if you spend more time in the cold, then your body will make more of a protein involved in the formation of so-called "brown fat," the kind of fat that generates heat to keep you at a steady temperature. At least that's the proposition regarding transcription factor Zfp516 in experiments on laboratory mice. Moreover, this protein helps convert white fat, the kind that those hoping to lose weight would rather shed, into a form similar to brown fat that also burns "calories". "Knowing which proteins regulate brown fat is significant because brown fat is not only important for thermogenesis, but there is evidence that brown fat may also affect metabolism and insulin resistance," explains principal investigator Hei Sook Sul. How this discovery might translate to human metabolism and obesity remains to be seen.





Researchers at University College London, the University of Bath and Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire, UK, have used computer simulations to help explain why making blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) using gallium nitride is so difficult. Blue LEDs have been available commercially for twenty years and are used in energy-saving lighting and many other applications. They earned their inventors the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics. However, there has been a gap in our knowledge as to how gallium nitride actually works to produce light of the required wavelength; it needs a lot of magnesium dopant. Now, UCL chemist John Buckeridge and colleagues have simulated the doping of this material and demonstrated that when you add a magnesium atom, it replaces a gallium atom but does not donate the positive charge to the material. The discovery could help scientists develop an alternative doping strategy for making new types of blue LED.





Scientists in France have demonstrated how iron polycarboxylate metal-organic framework (MOF) materials can trap nitric oxide (NO) molecules. The discovery opens up the possibility of delivering this natural therapeutic agent to particular disease sites in the body to remedy specific respiratory problems and heart disease. NO is found in bacteria, plant, animal and fungi cells and is one of a select group of gas molecules, along with carbon monoxide, active oxygen species, hydrogen sulfide and others that are crucial to biological signaling pathways. In mammals, NO is a powerful vasodilator, increasing blood flow and lowering vascular pressure. As such, it can be used to treat respiratory failure in premature infants as well as being the key ingredient to the sexual arousal response and a target for sexual dysfunction medication.





A derivative of asphalt, the black, petroleum-based substance primarily used to make roads, has been demonstrated to act as a carbon-capture material by researchers at Rice University, Texas. James Tour and colleagues have followed up last year's discovery of a "green" carbon capture material for oil wellhead carbon sequestration with a more effective compound made inexpensively and in very few reaction steps from asphalt. The best version of several trial materials made by the Tour lab is a powder that holds 114 percent of its mass in carbon dioxide; details are published in the journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.





Sir John Holman an emeritus professor of the University of York, UK, is this year's winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry's Lewis Award in recognition of his extensive influence over chemistry education policy. Holman is an adviser in education at the Wellcome Trust and the Gatsby Foundation, was a founding director of the UK's National Science Learning Centre and was an adviser to the English government as National Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Director. The award winner receives a medal, a certificate and a prize of £5000 (ca US$8000). The prize is given every two years in the name of Professor Lord Lewis.