Tag archive for interesting

MotW13 – A Potential Metal-Free Cancer Drug


Metal-DNA adducts are popular molecules for cancer treatment.  However, the metal-based drugs have been associated with unwanted side effects such as nausea, nephrotoxicity (toxicity to kidney cells), and myelosuppression (suppression of bone marrow activity).  Researchers have therefore been geared toward synthesizing metal-free cancer drugs.  A research team at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay  has created a new bis(phosphite) ligand) and corresponding complexes of selenium and gold with thioether functionalities (D. Suresh, Maravanji S. Balakrishna, Krishnan Rathinasamy, Dulal Panda and Joel T. Mague Dalton Trans., 2008, 2285 – 2292).

All three compounds were examined for cytotoxic activity in a HeLa (human cervix epitheloid carcinoma) cell line.  While the bis(phosphite) ligand and bis(sulfide) derivative of the ligand significantly inhibited growth of the HeLa cells, the selenium and gold complexes did not.  By testing both the bis(phosphite) ligand and bis(sulfide) derivative in the HeLa line with annexin V and a propidium iodide apoptosis detection kit, the researchers discovered that both compounds caused cell death by apoptosis, using specialized mechanisms within the cell to shed membrane-bound particles.  The creation of a cancer drug that could potentially reduce or eliminate the side effects of metal-based drugs could help make treatment more bearable for patients as well as possibly attack resistant cells more effectively.

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First images of atomic orbitals

images of the atomic orbitals of a carbon atom

This comes soon after IBM researchers imaged a single molecule using AFM.

To create these images, the researchers used a field-emission electron microscope, or FEEM. They placed a rigid chain of carbon atoms, just tens of atoms long, in a vacuum chamber and streamed 425 volts through the sample. The atom at the tip of the chain emitted electrons onto a surrounding phosphor screen, rendering an image of the electron cloud around the nucleus.

[insidescience via slashdot]

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Lists of some of my science related feeds… [updated]

Chemistry journals I ‘try’ to keep up with (every two weeks or monthly):

  1. Accounts of Chemical Research | RSS
  2. Crystal Growth & Design | RSS
  3. Inorganic Chemistry | RSS
  4. Chemical Society Reviews | RSS
  5. Dalton Transactions | RSS
  6. Angewandte Chemie | RSS

And other science related feeds I review (every week or so):

  1. Cosmic Variance | RSS
  2. Innovation | RSS
  3. Next Big Future | RSS
  4. Nobel Intent | RSS
  5. Science Blogs Select | RSS
  6. Slate Magazine – Science | RSS
  7. Bad Science | RSS [update]

What are you reading online (science related of course). Leave a link and why you read it in the comments!

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World meet Adam

Robot Scientist 'Adam' at Aberystwyth University Adam is a robot designed to carry out scientific experiments from beginning to end… and everything in between – literally. The whole process is run by Adam from

formulating hypotheses, designing and running experiments, analyzing data, and deciding which experiments to run next.

Adam conducted an experiment on yeast enzymes.

Adam sought out gaps in the metabolism model, specifically orphan enzymes, which scientists think exist, but which haven’t been linked to any parent genes. After selecting a desirable orphan, Adam scoured the database for similar enzymes in other organisms, along with the corresponding genes. Using this information, it hypothesized that similar genes in the yeast genome may code for the orphan enzyme.

The project is being led by Ross King at Aberystwyth University in Wales. It seems pretty cool, but should we start worrying about robots taking over scientists’ jobs now, too? [wired.com]

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The Empire State Building is Going Green

empire state buildingRenovations should start this summer in an effort to reduce the amount of energy being consumed by the skyscraper. Reduction is aimed at 38% a year by 2013. Although costing a bit upfront ($20 million), they will see savings of $4.4 million a year… so the renovations will be sure to pay for themselves in no time. It’s great to see energy guzzlers are making efforts to reduce consumption! [New York Times]

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So mom was right…

broccoli Apparently mom wasn’t trying to torture you with all that broccoli after all. A recent study in Japan stated that

Eating 2.5 ounces a day of broccoli sprouts appeared to reduce the risk of stomach ulcers and probably stomach cancer.

The word “probably” makes me question the validity of their claims. However, they did show that eating broccoli significantly lowered the levels of H. pylori (a bacterium associated with stomach damage and gastric cancer) in those who participated in the study.

So think twice the next time you go to sneak your broccoli under the table for the dog! [Yahoo! Health]

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Don’t count your chickens before they hatch… apparently they can do it for you

chicks A study on chicks has shown that they can also count. Researchers at the University of Padova and University of Trento tested the chicks’ math skills by moving plastic balls behind screens – so as to have three behind one and two behind the other. The researchers had previously found that they prefer to be near groups containing more of the objects.

The chicks still approached the larger of the two groups first, even though they had to rely on memory to work out which screen to choose. –Professor Regolin

So what’s next… algebra? calculus? computational chemistry? Watch out! These cute little guys could be posing a threat to our jobs. [BBC News]

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Hi! My name is Barry, and I kill coral


This isn’t my new pet, rather it is a giant sea worm that was recently ‘found’ in a living reef exhibit at Newquay’s Blue Reef Aquarium in the UK. Seems the curator could not figure out why their prize reef exhibit was being destroyed. On dismantling the exhibit, this sweet guy was found and named Barry. Barry is over 4 feet long and is no longer allowed near the coral. [via zooillogix]

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The Wii’s Shows Potential for U.S. Military Applications

wiiClearly my videogame nerd tendencies brought this article to my attention. The Wii, the console system designed to provide fun games and activities for the entire family, is being studied closely by military engineers and scientists at the Idaho National Laboratory for potential uses in the military. Its easy to use wireless controller is what is currently being studied in relation with bomb robots. As it stands now, the current equipment used to control these robots requires detailed knowledge of over 50 buttons and requires the operator to devote a lot of time to watching a computer screen. This leaves the operator open to attack, making it crucial to have a second officer to guard him. If the Wii-mote could be programmed to control the robot with just a few simple buttons and an infared trigger, the operator would have a better awareness of his surroundings, making him less vulnerable to surprise attacks. Unfortunately, they will have to improve the programming of these robots to prevent them from being hacked, so it will be some time before we see any Wii-bots on the field.

And you thought the Wii was all fun and games?

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Lifestyle Clues

fingerprintI found a pretty interesting article in C&EN about information that can be obtained from fingerprints.  We know that fingerprints can be used as clues to a person’s identity, and recently researchers have found that they can also be used to discover a person’s drug habits and potentially his or her medical history.  Chemists are reporting that they have discovered ways to detect different types of drugs and their metabolites, such as marijuana, cocaine, etc., in fingerprints.  A team at the University of East Anglia, in England, attached antibodies which recognize drug metabolites to iron oxide magnetic particles, which could be used to dust for fingerprints.  Another antibody was added to fluoresce which will help recognize drugs and metabolites.  Test fingerprints were taken from volunteer drug users at a local clinic and the team was able to successfully identify the drugs in their fingerprints.

I found this article and technique very interesting.  I think that it could have applications in forensic science and even in drug testing at sporting events such as the Olympics.  The article also stated that at some point it will be possible to known a person’s medical history from his or her fingerprint.  This, as well as its drug testing applications, raises some questions about privacy laws.  I think that this technology, if used for the correct purposes and not for exploitation, can be a convenience tool for forensic scientists.

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Duplicating nature in the lab

If you need further justification for research, check out this piece over at wired

But although nature can make a remarkably wide variety of chemicals — far more than the best molecule-making robots — it does not always deliver them in bulk. [wired]

I especially like the conversion of cocaine to an ion-channel blocker found in poison dart frogs. Good stuff!

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I may be seeing things but at least I’m not crazy!!

gimme coffee.jpgLet me get this straight. If I drink too much coffee, I may hallucinate…

It was found that 315 milligrams of caffeine (about what you’ll find in three standard cups off coffee) increased hallucinations by three times, though it’s unclear as to whether or not this data could be correlational with crazy people simply drinking more caffeine to begin with. [LiveScience via gizmodo]

But… if I have enough, I may be preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s…

The reason for this is as yet unknown, although it has been hypothesized that the high levels of antioxidants found in coffee may play a role in preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s. [via slashdot]

And then there’s news that marijuana could also prevent Alzheimer’s…

In his study, an experimental group of old rats received a dosage, and a control group of rats did not. The old rats that received the drugs performed better on memory tests, and the drug slowed and prevented brain cell death. [via slashdot]

I think I’ll stick with the espresso and coffee…

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The year in science

msnbc has a nice review of the top science stories of 2008 as well as a roundup of the best roundups!

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A fashionable type of medicine

spidersilknwebA recent CNN.com article describes new and unusual ways of re-growing broken bones and fixing holes in human hearts.  The novel methods involve molecules found in spider silk and the popular waterproof apparel material, Gore-Tex.  At Tufts University, scientists are researching new ways to use spider silk to genetically engineer new bone tissue.  The Department of Biomedical Engineering is trying to utilize the silk’s building-block proteins to create a scaffold material on which new bones or teeth can be grown.  Silk has six times the tensile strength of a steel fiber of equal diameter, but is biocompatible with the human body.  The desired scaffolding material would be used to fill a hole or a break in a tooth or bone.  Tufts scientists plan to take stem cells from elsewhere in the patient’s body to initiate replacement tissue growth.  Silk’s biodegradable nature would allow the scaffold to dissolve over time, much like the soluble stitches used in today’s dentistry.

At Rush University in Indiana, Gore-Tex is being investigated as a viable material to repair holes in the human heart.  Cardiologist Dr. Ziyad Hijazi has shaped the Gore-Tex material into a small umbrella and proposes that it be used to cover a common hole in the upper chamber of the human heart called the Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO).  The PFO is not usually dangerous, but can be for stroke victims.  The Gore-Tex umbrella device, named the Gore-Helex Septal Occluder, has seen success in plugging another type of heart hole.  The PFO hole is suspected to contribute to 40% of strokes in the U.S., so if the device proves successful in coming trials, the new technology could make a big difference in the treatment of stroke patients.

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Appetite Supression Using Hormones

An article I saw recently on Yahoo! News, discusses the discovery of a new appetite supressing hormone found in mice.  The study focuses on a molecule known as N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine or NAPE for short.  The compound was found by examining the blood of mice using LCMS after the ingestion of large amounts of lipids.  It was found that the levels of NAPE increased dramatically and the physiological effects of NAPE had never previously been studied.  The hormone is released by the small intestine after the ingestion of fat.

It was found that the food intake of mice could be controlled though injections of NAPE.  In large doses (1000 mg/kg body weight), the mice would almost completely stop eating.  The effects of the NAPE injection was found to last for 12 hrs for this high dose of NAPE.  It was found that the NAPE acumulates in the hypothalamus, and it is believed that this direct interaction with the central nervous system is how the NAPE reduces appetite.  It was determined that NAPE treatment supresses the neurotransmitter neuropeptide y, which is involved in stimulating the desire to eat.  It was also found that a high fat diet reduced the ability of the mice’s body to produce NAPE.

This research could lead to a new insight into reasons for obesity in humans.  It also may lead to a novel treatment for obesity using injections of NAPE and related compounds.  However, the research is still years away from human application.

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A Greener MacBook

enviroappleI don’t know if many of you have seen the new Macbook commercials yet, but Apple has released a new “greener” laptop. The new notebook is free (less than 900ppm Br and Cl, as defined by Apple) of brominated flame retardants (BFRs), which are present in many industrial products.  The toxicity of many of these compounds has not yet been extensively studied and BFRs are currently showing up increasingly in the environment and in humans (Birnbaum, L; Staskal, D. Brominated Flame Retardants: Cause for Concern? Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 112, 1, January 2004).  In addition, all internal cables in the laptop are free of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the LED glass display is free of arsenic and mercury and uses 30% less power than traditional laptop displays, the computer is encased in less packaging, and the battery is free of lead, cadmium, and mercury.  (A more detailed analysis can be found here.)

The notebook has been rated at the highest level by the EPEAT, an agency that helps electronics manufacturers environmentally evaluate their products.  Apple seems to explain a lot of the information regarding the new Macbook’s environmental safety well to the average consumer, but I think the sales pitch of environmentalism still comes into play a bit.  Although the notebook can’t be free of all harmful materials whatsoever, it seems like a better (and cooler) option than most of the other notebook computers on the market.

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Cells with Baggage


A lymphocyte cell with its magnetic nanoparticle "baggage"

It’s nice to know that those smart cookies up at MIT are getting something pretty sweet accomplished.  Reported on bbc.com but originally published in Nano Letters, researchers have found a way to attach a polymer rucksack filled with magnetic nanoparticles to cells which allows the cell to be manipulated by a simple magnet.  The “rucksack” was created using polymer multi-layer technology with a three layer system that contains polymers designed to stick to the cell wall, hold the rucksack’s payload, and encase the other two layers which was built on a patterned surface that allows the layers to form only in certain places.  A liquid mixture of live cells is then poured over a batch of rucksacks, which immediately latch onto the cell’s walls.  Upon heating, the rucksacks disconnect from the cell walls, leaving the cells floating around with their new accessories.

This break-through has opened up the doors for tons of research opportunities that would allow scientists to literally dictate the movement of specific cells in order to minimize the amount of medicine a person has to actually take.  Instead of flooding the body with huge amounts of prescription drugs that can sometimes produce nasty side effects, the medication can be sent directly to the source of the problem which, in theory, should also be more effective.

So far, the lymphocyte cells, a type of cell involved in the immune system, have been the only ones tested.  However, the cells were still able to perform their normal functions and were ultimately not harmed in the carrying of the rucksack.  As long as this research continues, I believe the world of drug treatment could be vastly altered if this new technology is able to live up to the hype scientists believe it can.

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Melamine In Infant Formula

A recent article by Britt E. Erickson in C&EN news, discusses the issue of having Melamine in infant formula. Melamine is an organic compound created in the 1930’s and has various uses such as making plastics, laminates, and even fertilizer. It is also one of the main chemicals used to make dishwasher safe materials. Uunfortunately, the chemical is used by many food companies as a cheap and abundant filler substance for things such as livestock feed, pet food, and now, baby formula. In various tests used to determine the nutritional value of food, Melamine shows up as a protein due to its chemical makeup, so many food manufacturers utilize it as a way to make their products seem more nutritious. When inside the body, Melamine can result in kidney stones and renal failure.

In September, there was a controversy in China regarding Melamine in baby formula. Over 1,000 babies were found to have kidney stones after consuming infant formula containing Melamine. In late November, after the Melamine scare in China, the US FDA declared that it could not establish a safe level of Melamine for infant formula. However, recently, the FDA had a policy reversal, where it stated that levels of Melamine below 1ppm do not pose a threat to infants. The FDA says that these levels are so low that “they do not pose a risk to infants.” After testing infant formula samples in the US, the FDA found formulas manufactured by Nestle Nutrition, and Mead Johnson to contain Melamine.

After reading the article, I was simply appalled by what I learned. Letting the FDA allow trace amounts of Melamine to be used in baby formula is simply absurd. I was especially concerned because the issue arose in China in September, yet the FDA approved small amounts of Melamine only after doing a few months of research. It seems that the risks are too high, especially after what happened in China. I think our FDA should take more caution and do more testing before taking such a risk with infants.

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