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This week The Alchemist is looking into an environmental model for understanding chemical interactions, a metallopeptide that can target cancer cell mitochondria, a light switch for chemical reactions, a programmable "tattoo," and a spot of scientific art. Finally, the 23rd annual Nagoya medalists receive their awards on 22nd December.

A new kind of ink, made from living, genetically programmed cells, has been developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The cells were engineered to respond to various stimuli by lighting up. They can be mixed with a slurry of hydrogel and nutrients and then printed layer by layer, to form three-dimensional, interactive structures and devices. The team has tested the concept by printing a living tattoo, a thin, transparent patch of these cells. The "device" could be programmed to detect environmental pollutants, report pH, measure temperature and other factors but be used as a truly wearable technology.

Nanotechnology is never more public than when its protagonists create artworks on this scale of matter. Now, Caltech's Lulu Qian has used the DNA Origami technique developed by Paul Rothemund to create a fractal artwork that resembles the world-renowned painting by Leonardo da Vinci, The Mona Lisa. The inexpensive approach uses the self-assembly properties of DNA to self-assemble large arrays with entirely customizable patterns, the nano-canvas can be used to reproduced any image, the team has simply turned to Leonardo for inspiration in their proof of principle.

This year's Gold medal in the 23rd Nagoya Medal of Organic Chemistry will be presented to E.W. "Bert" Meijer of Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands, the Silver Medal to Hiroaki Suga of The University of Tokyo, Japan. The Nagoya Medal Prize was initially proposed by Hisashi Yamamoto and Ryoji Noyori and started in 1995. The Gold Medal recognises an organic chemist who has made significant original contributions to the field in its broadest sense. The Silver Medal is awarded to a chemist in Japan who has also had an important impact on the field.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, have developed a model to scientists examine the interactions of pesticides with other chemicals, the so-called cocktail effect. They hope that their work will make legislating for environmental protection easier. The team has looked at the likes of antifungal agents which synergistically increase the effects of insecticides. The data associated with such interactions can then be embedded into their model and so allow predictions to be made about the effect on the environment when both classes of compound are present.

Novel pharmaceuticals in the form of metallopeptides can be used to target the mitochondria present in cancer cells, according to new research published by researchers from King's College London, UK. The copper-containing peptide is readily taken up by mitochondria in breast cancer stem cells and triggers programmed cell death, apoptosis. The approach side-steps the limitations of more conventional organometallic agents that the team has investigated such as copper(II) phenanthroline. “Attachment of mitochondrial-penetrating peptides enables selective and efficient delivery to mitochondria,” the team suggests.

Light and dark have previously been used to control distinct chemical reaction pathways but a way to switch off ground-state reactivity reversibly by shedding a little light on the reactants has been demonstrated as a unique tool that could be used to break the lower limit on how small micro-electronic components can be "printed". Hannes Houck, Filip Du Prez and Christopher Barner-Kowollik from the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Ghent University, have explored the possibility of a light switch for chemical reactions. "The results of our study have the potential to establish super resolution photoresists that break the diffraction barrier to print a few nanometre wide lines with visible light – a distant dream today," Barner-Kowollik says.