ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.November 15, 2005


In this issue, The Alchemist discovers the gecko's climbing secret, why red kiwi fruits could become all the rage for fitness fanatics, and finds a natural approach for the chemical industry. Also this month, a molecular Lego set wins the 2005 Feynman Prize and Alzheimer's insights provide an explanation for drug's effects.

Geckos are well known as expert climbers, they're the biggest creaturesthat can hang unassumedly from a ceiling. Now, as part of theinternational effort to understand how geckos achieve their invertedtrick, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Metals Research inStuttgart and Saarbruecken, Nuernberg-Erlangen and the ETH Zurich havedemonstrated that the "stickiness" of the soles of a gecko's feetincreases as the humidity rises. The researchers suggest that theirmicroscopic analysis could open up new avenues of research intoartificial adhesive systems.

Red-fleshed kiwi fruits could soon be making a healthy debut onsupermarket shelves. A team of researchers in Italy and New Zealand hasalready demonstrated why they could make a fitting choice for consumers.The researchers used HPLC to analyze the fruit's pigments and comparedtheir findings with authentic standards. They also used liquidchromatography-mass spectrometry to obtain a tentative identification ofthe major anthocyanins in red-fleshed kiwifruit. Red-fleshed kiwifruit,they say, contain significant quantities of anthocyanins, bright redpigments that the researchers explain are highly potent antioxidants,thought to provide protection against heart disease and cancer.

A sustainable chemical process developed by researchers at theUniversity of Amsterdam and Radboud University in Nijmegen and partnersSynthon could lead to higher reaction rates, substantially biggeryields, and less waste. The development of the process, for whichSynthon has a patent pending was supported by NWO ACTS (AdvancedChemical Technologies for Sustainability). The one-pot approachdeveloped by the Dutch team combines a metal-catalyzed conversion withan enzymic step at optimized pH and temperature. The overall reactiontimes were shorter when the process was carried out using a one-potapproach and yields were higher than when each step was carried outseparately.

Christian Schafmeister of University of Pittsburgh and his team have wonthe 2005 Feynman prize awarded by the Foresight Nanotech Institute fortheir work in developing what they call a "molecular Lego set". Like thechildren's construction kit, the researchers say their molecular kit canbe used to piece together sturdy, predictable nanostructures. The Pittteam designed fourteen small molecular building blocks that carry tworemovable molecular caps. Controlled reactions strategically strip awaythe caps, causing the molecules to link together in predictable ways.The researchers have already snapped together nanometer rods andcrescents and reckon they could produce a wide variety of structureswith their technique.

Researchers at the Salk Institute and the University of Lausanne workingwith pharmaceutical company Roche have solved the three-dimensionalstructure of the long thread-like fibers that are present in the braintissue of Alzheimer's disease patients. The structure reveals thattheses proteins zipper together to make the fibrils, a process thatmight be a target for novel drugs to combat the debilitating effects ofthe disease. Salk's Roland Riek says that the study will primarily helpexplain how one drug currently in European clinical trials works.Apparently, the drug binds to the end of the fibril chain of betaamyloid proteins and stops them accumulating to form the telltaleamyloid plaques of Alzheimer's disease.