ChemWeb Newsletter

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Publishers' select

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This week, The Alchemist learns how graphene could be used to hook electrodes up to the brain for research and disease therapy, how BPA substitutes are not necessarily the answer to improving the reputation of plastics. We jog on with wearable sweat sensors and discover just how many years have been wasted by the actions of one car manufacturer. A radiolabel trick for pharma intrigues us this week and finally an NSF award for protein misfolding science.

The 9 million Volkswagen cars sold in Europe and the US from 2009 to 2015 equipped to defeat emissions analysis amounts to cumulative additional nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution of more than half a megaton, according to Dutch research. That figure, 526,000 tonnes of NOx, equates to 44,000 years of health lost to European citizens because of the effects on lung function and disease incidence caused by those noxious gases that would have otherwise not been released had the vehicles truly been cleaner. If Volkswagen does not recall the cars that were tampered with, an additional 72,000 healthy life years will be lost in Europe, researchers from Radboud University suggest.

US chemists have come up with a simple one-step trick to allow them to add radioactive hydrogen, tritium atoms, to a specific site in an organic compound for radiolabeling purposes. The trick was discovered almost by accident when the team noticed systematic changes in their NMR spectra that faded with time. The process could be used to track metabolic pathways taken by a pharmaceutical or other compound, a toxin, for instance. Earlier methods could incorporate tritium atoms in a molecule only adjacent to a directing group. Princeton University's Paul Chirik and colleagues were able to readily access other positions in their molecules.

The US National Science Foundation's (NSF) most prestigious award in support of junior faculty this year goes to Lisa M. Jones, an assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The award of $1.1 million will help Jones carry on her work to develop a novel approach to the study of cell membrane proteins in their native cellular environment, research essential to gaining a better understanding of protein misfolding and its role in disease.

The 2D carbon allotrope graphene can interact with neurons safely, according to new research. Writing in the journal ACS Nano members of an interdisciplinary team from the University of Trieste, Italy, the University Castilla-La Mancha, Spain and the Cambridge Graphene Centre, comprising chemists, biophysicists, neurobiologists and experts in nanotechnology, describe an interface that does not compromise the integrity of neurons. "We tested the ability of neurons to generate electrical signals known to represent brain activities and found that the neurons retained unaltered their neuronal signaling properties," explains team member Laura Ballerini. The interface could have applications in brain research and in controlling the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. In the very long-term such an interface might be the first step towards connecting the brain directly to a computer.

There has been an increase in the cynical marketing of plastic products that are free of BPA (bisphenol A) on the back of safety concerns regarding this plastic additive. However, the demand for products with specific properties that were endowed on them by BPA remains and so alternatives, including bisphenol S, BPS, are now being used widely. New research from UCLA, University of California at Los Angeles, into the safety of BPS, however, suggests that it can accelerate embryonic development and disrupt the reproductive system. "Our study [on zebrafish] shows that making plastic products with BPA alternatives does not necessarily leave them safer," explains senior author of the study Nancy Wayne, a reproductive endocrinologist and professor of physiology.

A wearable sensor that carries out chemical analysis of your sweat when exercising, for instance, and sends data about metabolites, electrolytes and skin temperature to a smart phone app, could be the next device to assist in sports and health science and perhaps offer consumers a detailed view of their body chemistry. Health monitors are big business, this latest development could open up monitoring of critical changes in hydration levels, body electrolytes and extreme temperature rises and falls. "While [the] wearable, non-invasive technology works well on sweating athletes, there are likely to be many other applications of the technology for measuring vital metabolite and electrolyte levels of healthy persons in daily life," explains Berkeley's George Brooks. "It can also be adapted to monitor other body fluids for those suffering from illness and injury."