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This week, the Alchemist hears how starfish mucus could be the next lead in anti-inflammatory drug research, while chromatography uses macrocyclic starch molecules to go green. News of an arsenic-based bacteria is greatly exaggerated (allegedly) but energy-rich waste water may be the fuel of the future. In organic supramolecular ionic chemistry, the pyrrole unit helps a Japanese team synthesis nanostructured fibrous and soft materials. Finally, the 2012 ACS president is announced.

A slimy secretion with which spiny starfish coat themselves could be the next big thing in anti-inflammatory medicine for treating conditions, such as asthma, allergic rhinitis and arthritis. Marthasterias glacialis uses a complex mixture of glycoproteins in its "mucin" as an antifouling agent to prevent other sea creatures from making a home on the surface of the starfish, much as a boat's hull is coated to prevent barnacles from sticking. According to Clive Page of King's College London, laboratory tests show that starfish mucins inhibit the adhesion of human neutrophils to cultured human vascular endothelial cells but have no anticoagulant activity. Such characteristics might be a useful lead in the search for anti-inflammatory compounds.

High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is a common enough tool in the analytical and chemical laboratories but usually needs acetonitrile solvent to operate optimally. Displacing non-renewable toxic organic solvents with water or "renewable" ethanol would make liquid chromatography a much more environmentally benign process. Now, researchers in Spain have turned to cyclodextrins, essentially biodegradable rings of starch produced by certain bacteria, as a carrier for the mobile phase. The team found that they could greatly increase the total volume of water rather than acetonitrile they could use in HPLC. Given the high price of acetonitrile, cyclodextrin-based HPLC will not only be greener, but cheaper too.

Recently, NASA heralded the discovery of a bacteria in a toxic lake in California that uses arsenic instead of phosphorus in its DNA as a major breakthrough in finding clues for life on other planets. But, the science does not seem to stack up and in what might be termed the modern, open, social media successor of anonymous peer review, the evidence has been picked apart by countless experts and laid bare for others to see. The research published in Science follows up earlier research that revealed a bacteria that could metabolize arsenic, but takes the implications one step further and apparently shows that a bacteria can switch out P for As. The team is standing by its results in the face of ongoing criticism. There is, however, a strong possibility that there was sample contamination and given that the research did not have access to NMR spectroscopy to prove the presence of arsenic biomolecules, the self-appointed jury is unlikely to be persuaded in their favor.

Researchers at the Newcastle University in England have calculated that just four liters of domestic waste water contains enough energy to illuminate a 100 Watt light bulb for five minutes. Given that the US treats up to 50 trillion liters of wastewater each year using about 1.5% of the nation's total electricity production, that's a lot of potential energy wasted. Liz Heidrich and co-workers painstakingly freeze dried water to leave behind a residue of organic volatiles account for up to 10 kilojoules per liter. This energy could be trapped by conversion to methane or hydrogen gas. Of course, finding an effective and highly energy-efficient method of tapping this resource is now needed, but at 10 kJ/l the incentive is there.

Japanese researcher Hiromitsu Maeda of Risumeikan University and his colleagues have turned to the well-known molecular motif of the pyrrole to construction a new class of structured materials. By combining planar pyrrole-containing negatively charged complexes with similarly planar, positively charged organic ions they can generate fibers and soft materials, such as supramolecular gels and liquid crystals based on organic salts. The team can design specific nanostructures by tweaking the side-groups on the organic ionic components of these systems.

As of January 1, 2011, Bassam Shakhashiri of the University of Wisconsin-Madison will be president elect of the American Chemical Society. His term of office will then begin January 1, 2012. On accepting his new role, Shakhashiri said, "It is through chemistry research and education that we can make major contributions to improve the quality of life in America and to advance the human condition around the globe." During his term as ACS President he hopes to assure support for research and education, promote green chemistry and public understanding of climate change, and to address employment issues and foster international cooperation in research and education.