ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.July 11, 2006


This week the Alchemist discovers that carbon dioxide could pose a serious threat to marine life and in particular corals and the marine ecosystems that depend on them. We also find out how publication of new rigorous research into the effects of "shrooms" could represent a watershed moment in understanding hallucinogens. Solving the problem of soliton structure is set to lead to new types of actuators and fine control for artificial muscles and TEM stacks up carbon nanotubes for peak-time viewing. Finally this week, explosive sex in a tube. But, you'll have to wait till at least 2008.

Ocean chemistry is changing dramatically because of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, according to a report written by Joan Kleypas, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, and colleagues. The report warns of the long-term impact of burning fossil fuels on marine life, including corals, thanks to rising oceanic acidity levels as more and more carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere and subsequently dissolves in the sea. "It is clear that seawater chemistry will change in coming decades and centuries in ways that will dramatically alter marine life," says Kleypas. A fall in calcification in marine algae and animals, such as corals, will have an effect on the marine food web and ultimately may affect significantly the biodiversity and productivity of the ocean, the report's authors add. They outline future potential research directions to help hone predicted outcomes.

The hallucinogenic effects of the plant alkaloid called psilocybin, found in so-called magic mushrooms, or "shrooms", has been shown to induce the same mystical and spiritual experiences people have described for centuries, in sacred writings and other literature, according to Johns Hopkins researcher Roland Griffiths and colleagues. "A vast gap exists between what we know of these drugs—mostly from descriptive anthropology—and what we believe we can understand using modern clinical pharmacology techniques," he says. The present study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, showed that these hallucinogenic experiences can affect behavior and attitudes in individuals using the drug for several months, at least. The research marks a new systematic approach to studying hallucinogenic compounds that researchers in the 1950s hoped would have therapeutic potential or value in investigating consciousness and sensory perception.

Scientists in the US have uncovered the inside story of solitons, the charge carriers active in certain conducting polymers. The newly discovered intricate internal structure of solitons could one day be exploited in molecular electronics and materials that work like artificial muscles, according to Ju Li of Ohio State University. Li and his colleagues at MIT have found that the electron within a soliton can have different energy states, analogous to the energy states in a hydrogen atom for instance. "While we know that such internal electronic structures exist in all atoms, this is the first time anyone has shown that such structures exist in a soliton," Li explains. When solitons pass through polymers, the polymer chains change shape, which leads to the possibility of using them as actuators or artificial muscle tissues. This new discovery could allow scientists to find a way to control this polymeric twitching.

A new type of electron microscope is giving researchers at Purdue University a nice view down the carbon nanotubes. Their studies could provide new clues as to how these intriguing wrapped up carbon sheets form at the atomic level. The team has modified their transmission electron microscope (TEM) so that they can observe the coming together of atoms as gases flow into the TEM chamber in the presence of a metal catalyst; a standard synthetic method for nano structure. If nanotechnology is to thrive, then manufacturing nanostructures will have to be a consistent process and the only way to learn how to make it so is to understand exactly how atoms interact and come together to form such structures, according to team leader Eric Stach.

A gel containing nitroglycerine could soon become an over-the-counter treatment for erectile dysfunction according to Futura Medical and GlaxoSmithkline. The compound, more commonly known in medical circles as glyceryl trinitrate, has been prescribed for angina for many years. The recent flurry of interest in this and related compounds for treating sexual dysfunction has led to a focus on such vasodilators. Now, Futura and GSK hope to enlist volunteers to test a gel containing GTN for the topical treatment of impotence. They anticipate receiving regulatory approval in 2008. They are also going to assess the effects of the gel on the female partners of the volunteers. It is well known that nitroglycerine can cause headaches, which would not be a positive outcome for the male volunteers cured of their dysfunction.