ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.February 8, 2005


Our round-up of chemical happenings on the web this time includes research that sheds light on the role of ionic liquid crystals in solar cells, uncovers an anticancer compound from a rare rainforest plant, and reveals how one KISS kick starts puberty. Also in this issue staying one step ahead of the dope cheats and assisting forensic scientists with the foul stench of death.

Robust ionic liquid crystals could form the core of an efficient class of photosensitive materials, thanks to research by Yuji Wada and colleagues at Osaka University and Yokohama National University. They developed a new way to exploit ionic liquid crystals as the electrolyte in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs). DSSCs use dye molecules, nanocrystalline metal oxides and liquid electrolytes, to give them a high light-to-electricity conversion efficiency and a low production cost. This latest development shows the ILC-based DSSCs to be among the most efficient yet.

An extract from a rare and nondescript species of dogbane found in the Amazonian rain forest is a potential new ally in the fight against breast cancer. University of Virginia researchers Deborah Lannigan and Jeffrey Smith studied the compound, known esoterically as "SL0101", from the South American shrub Forsteronia refracta. SL0101 is a signal transduction inhibitor and, according to the U.Va. team, a potent inhibitor of the cancer-linked protein RSK. As such, it kills breast cancer cells but leaves healthy breast tissue unaffected, say the researchers. Pre-clinical trials are now in progress.

Researchers in the UK and France have discovered the genetic key that switches on puberty in boys and girls. Sophie Messager of Cambridge company Paradigm Therapeutics and colleagues at the University of Cambridge and the National Institute of Agronomy research in Nouzilly, France, demonstrate the role played by G protein-coupled receptor 54 (GPR54) and its kisspeptin ligand, also known as metastin, in the onset of puberty. The discovery parallels related work in the US on the gene for kisspeptin, Kiss-1. Research into the underlying biochemistry of puberty onset could lead to new therapies for children who fail to start normal puberty.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has developed a test that can spot DMT, desoxy-methyl-testosterone. The compound is similar to THG, or tetrahydrogestrinone, and might be used by sports people preparing for events in order to enhance performance. The announcement of a simple test for detecting it will, however, act as a pre-emptive victory against drug cheats, says WADA. WADA science director Olivier Rabin says there is no evidence anyone is yet using DMT, "Probably in this case we are ahead of the dopers," he told a press conference on February 1.

Researchers at the National Technical University of Athens and the University of Athens Medical School have analyzed the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) exuded by decaying bodies. They discovered that although the decay products ought to be similar from body to body, two "sample" bodies tested revealed a very different fingerprint pattern of VOCs for each. The researchers suggest such differences might be exploited in post mortem forensic studies. The VOC decay profile, which is determined using mass spectrometry, could correlate with age at death, time of death, and other fatal factors of interest to homicide investigators.