Author awood

Molecule of the Week (10)

This week’s molecule comes from research at the University of Calabria, Italy about Pt(II) and Pd(II) complexes which may be active as anticancer agents (Pucci, D.; Bellusci, A.; Bernardini, S.; Bloise, R.; Crispini, A.; Federici, G.; Liguori, P.; Lucas, M.F.; Russo, N.; Valentini, A., Dalton Transactions, 2008, 5897-5904). The research focused on the synthesis of metal-complexes with two chelating ligands, 2-hydrocyclohepta-2,4,6-trienone (tropolone) and dihexadecyl-2,2′-bipyridine-4,4′-dicarboxylate (bipy), around either Pt(II) or Pd(II) metal centers. Pt is often used as a metal center in anti-cancer drugs, and Pd was introduced with the hope of reducing the toxicity of previous Pt drugs. Both compounds were successfully synthesized and analyzed by X-ray diffraction.

The geometry about the Pt(II) metal is distorted square planar and the molecule is essentially planar. The metal complexes were tested in vitro against the human prostate DU145 and hormone-sensitive LNCaPcell lines. The two chelating ligand system was more active at cell growth inhibition than other studied complexes. The complexes are known to inhibit tumor growth by binding to a cell’s DNA and inducing cell apoptosis or necrosis. These metal-based anticancer drugs are important because they seem to be more effective in lower doses, which would decrease toxicity. Also the specific bipy ligand which allows strong pi-pi bonds may cause further conformational changes in a cell’s DNA which might increase efficiency. The Calabria researchers plan to investigate the mechanisms of these inhibitory complexes in future work.

This molecule interested me because of its long, linear chains and near planar shape. It’s cool to take a look at the potential drugs of tomorrow.

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Genetically Modified Foods

A recent article reports that countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, specifically China, are relaxing previous restrictions on the importation and research of genetically modified crops.   This is because of the increasing demand for food from growing populations, which often results in hunger epidemics.  Genetic engineering has focused on producing plants which thrive in cold weather, droughts, nitrogen poor soils, among other desirable characteristics like herbicide and insect resistance.  On the one hand, genetic engineering does (more efficiently) what farmers have been doing for centuries-artificial selection through crossbreeding.  These developed traits allow for less fertilization (less chemical sprays in the environment and chemical residue on the foods) and higher yields to feed the public.  On the other hand, the public has voiced concern about the health effects of GM crops, or “Fraken-foods.”

GM crops are already in widespread use, especially in the US.  According to this article from C&EN,

In 2007 GM crops were planted in 23 countries across 281 million acres, a larger area than all the farmland in Europe.

Rice, corn, cotton, and soybeans are the major targets.  There is talk about requiring products made with GM crops to be labeled, and some companies are voluntarily labeling already.  Companies like Silk who use soybeans (the most GM crop) gladly label that they do not use GM beans.

I think the question here as in many of our debates is how much science should interfere with nature.  I’m actually not sure where I stand on the issue:  I see both sides.  It is the purpose of science to find a way to keep up with the growing needs of the world, and food is the most basic of these demands.  But at the same time, it is often difficult for scientists to accurately predict the full repercussions of their developments.  Are the risks worth it?  Both for our bodies and the environment?

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Seriously…let’s talk about creationism.

I know Dr. Kassel brought this up before, but I just heard it again on the news and I had to see what the story was.  Republican nominee John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin advocate teaching intelligent design (or creationism in disguise) right along with the theory of evolution. Now regardless of how you feel about it personally, the idea of throwing a religious theory in the science textbooks next to evolution has to be scary to scientists. A PA federal court ruled in 2005 that creationism could not be included in a public school science curriculum because it:

“singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource and instructs students to forgo scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere.”

I think there are serious implications to teaching young students, who are newly encountering the subjects, that creationism and evolution are on equal footing as scientific findings. Now separation of church and state is not a Constitutional right, but I wonder who has more to lose here: science or religion? On the one hand, if theories of science have the ability to reach for supernatural explanations the scientific method falls apart. On the other hand, if religion asserts itself as a science where does that leave faith?

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