ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.May 3, 2005


This week, The Alchemist takes another whirlwind tour of chemical happenings on the web unearthing a living methane generator in a Utah oilfield, throwing water on ionic liquids, observed an Australian anticancer agent as it enters clinical trials, standing back as bench-top nuclear fusion takes off, and pointing the microscope on living metals.

A sustainable source of natural gas, methane, has been unearthed by Luca Technologies LLC in the Monument Butte oilfield located in North Eastern Utah. The company's geologists confirmed the presence of a thriving methane-producing community of microorganisms in samples taken from the 110,000 acre oilfield. The discovery adds another major microbial consortium to Luca's previously discovered "Geobioreactors". The Luca scientists claim that the conversion of hydrocarbon deposits (oil, oil shales, and coal) into methane is an ongoing process in these deposits and could represent an alternative and renewable source of hydrocarbons for sustainable energy production, the company says.

A drop of water can make all the difference to the behavior of ionic liquids, according to scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Ionic liquids are non-volatile alternatives to conventional organic solvents that are being investigated urgently for their putative role in "greening" the chemical industry. The NIST team found that the flow properties of ionic liquids are extremely sensitive to water. For example, they observed a 1% decrease in flow resistance for just a 0.01% increase in water content. The findings will help chemists obtain reproducible results with ionic liquids.

A potent anticancer agent from Australian company Cytopia Ltd is to enter Phase I clinical trials with thirty patients with advanced solid tumors. The synthetic compound, labeled CYT997, is a microtubule-targeting agent, and was demonstrated to be a highly effective agent against prostate, colon, breast cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia cells. Other microtubule targeting agents include paclitaxel and epothilone. The patients will receive up to six cycles of the drug by intravenous infusion once every three weeks. The primary goal is to evaluate safety and tolerability prior to Phase II clinical trials. CYT997 has also shown oral activity and the company says preliminary tests indicate that cancer cells will not readily develop resistance to this compound.

Reports from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) claim that researchers there have obtained nuclear fusion in a laboratory by heating crystalline lithium tantalate bathed in deuterium gas. However, the claims do not promise endless renewable energy as far too few neutrons are produced by the system to be viable for commercial applications. Team leader Seth Putterman says, "we are nowhere near generating that kind of power." Nevertheless, the bench-top method developed by Putterman and his colleagues represents an important step towards a fusion power source because it is a self-contained system that precludes the need for a large high voltage power supply to kick-start the fusion process.

European scientists used synchrotron X-ray microbeams to observe how the microscopic structure of a crystalline material fluctuates in time even when the temperature remains constant. The study shows in microscopic detail how a metal alloy, composed of iron and aluminum, changes when heated. In contrast to conventional wisdom, the researchers discovered that one class of interference peaks associated with the low-temperature structure disappears, while another class of peaks belonging to the new structure emerge at the same temperature. This gives clearcut evidence that temporal structural fluctuations on an atomic scale are present in the crystal and could lead to new insights in the field of condensed matter science.