. Scientific Frontline: Chemistry
Showing posts with label Chemistry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chemistry. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Harmful ‘forever chemicals’ removed from water with new electrocatalysis method

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they break down very slowly. Rochester scientists have developed nanocatalysts that can more affordably remediate a specific type of PFAS called Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
Photo Credit: J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester 

A novel approach using laser-made nanomaterials created from nonprecious metals could lay the foundation for globally scalable remediation techniques.

Scientists from the University of Rochester have developed new electrochemical approaches to clean up pollution from “forever chemicals” found in clothing, food packaging, firefighting foams, and a wide array of other products. A new Journal of Catalysis study describes nanocatalysts developed to remediate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS.

The researchers, led by assistant professor of chemical engineering Astrid Müller, focused on a specific type of PFAS called Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), which was once widely used for stain-resistant products but is now banned in much of the world for its harm to human and animal health. PFOS is still widespread and persistent in the environment despite being phased out by US manufacturers in the early 2000s, continuing to show up in water supplies.

Possible ‘Trojan Horse’ found for treating stubborn bacterial infections

Transmission electron microscope (TEM) image of the bacterial cell with an extracellular vesicle attached.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Washington State University

Bacteria can be tricked into sending death signals to stop the growth of their slimy, protective homes that lead to deadly infections, a new study demonstrates.

The discovery by Washington State University researchers could someday be harnessed as an alternative to antibiotics for treating difficult infections. Reporting in the journal Biofilm, the researchers used the messengers, which they named death extracellular vesicles (D-EVs), to reduce growth of the bacterial communities by up to 99.99% in laboratory experiments.

“Adding the death extracellular vesicles to the bacterial environment, we are kind of cheating the bacteria cells,” said Mawra Gamal Saad, first author on the paper and a graduate student in WSU’s Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering. “The cells don’t know which type of EVs they are, but they take them up because they are used to taking them from their environment, and with that, the physiological signals inside the cells change from growth to death.”

Monday, March 4, 2024

DNA Aptamer Drug Sensors Can Instantly Detect Cocaine, Heroin and Fentanyl – Even When Combined with Other Drugs

Photo Credit: Nastya Dulhiier

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new generation of high-performance DNA aptamers and highly accurate drug sensors for cocaine and other opioids. The sensors are drug specific and can detect trace amounts of fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine – even when these drugs are mixed with other drugs or with cutting agents and adulterants such as caffeine, sugar, or procaine. The sensors could have far-reaching benefits for health care workers and law enforcement agencies.

“This work can provide needed updates to currently used tests, both in health care and law enforcement settings,” says Yi Xiao, associate professor of chemistry at NC State and corresponding author of two studies describing the work.

“For example, drug field testing currently used by law enforcement still relies on chemical tests developed a century ago that are poorly specific, which means they react to compounds that may not be the drug they’re looking for,” Xiao says.

“And the existing aptamer test for cocaine isn’t sensitive and specific enough to detect clinically relevant amounts of the drug in biological samples, like blood. The sensors we developed can detect cocaine in blood at nanomolar, rather than micromolar, levels, which represents a 1,000-fold improvement in sensitivity.”

Producing Hydrogen from Rocks Gains Steam as Scientists Advance New Methods

Researchers are studying chemical catalysts that can produce hydrogen gas from iron-rich rocks.
Photo Credit: Toti Larson / UT Austin.

In a project that could be a game changer for the energy transition, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin are exploring a suite of natural catalysts to help produce hydrogen gas from iron-rich rocks without emitting carbon dioxide.

If the scientists are successful, the project could jump-start a brand-new type of hydrogen industry: geologic hydrogen.

“We’re producing hydrogen from rocks,” said Toti Larson, a research associate professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences Bureau of Economic Geology and the lead researcher on the project. “It’s a type of non-fossil fuel production of hydrogen from iron-rich rocks that has never been attempted at an industrial scale.”

The research team recently received a $1.7 million grant from the Department of Energy and is collaborating with scientists at the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources to explore the feasibility of this process on different rock types across the United States.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Light stimulates a new twist for synthetic chemistry

The molecules synthesized in this study form different isomers when irradiated with blue light.
Photo Credit: Akira Katsuyama

Molecules that are induced by light to rotate bulky groups around central bonds could be developed into photo-activated bioactive systems, molecular switches, and more.

Researchers at Hokkaido University, led by Assistant Professor Akira Katsuyama and Professor Satoshi Ichikawa at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, have extended the toolkit of synthetic chemistry by making a new category of molecules that can be induced to undergo an internal rotation on interaction with light. Similar processes are believed to be important in some natural biological systems. Synthetic versions might be exploited to perform photochemical switching functions in molecular computing and sensing technologies, or in bioactive molecules including drugs. They report their findings in Nature Chemistry.

“Achieving a system like ours has been a significant challenge in photochemistry,” says Katsuyama. “The work makes an important contribution to an emerging field in molecular manipulation.”

Insights into the possibilities for light to significantly alter molecular conformations have come from examining some natural proteins. These include the rhodopsin molecules in the retina of the eye, which play a crucial role in converting light into the electrical signals that create our sense of vision in the brain. Details are emerging of how the absorption of light energy can induce a twisting rearrangement of part of the rhodopsin molecule, required for it to perform its biological function.

“Mimicking this in synthetic systems might create molecular-level switches with a variety of potential applications,” Katsuyama explains.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Human stem cells coaxed to mimic the very early central nervous system

Jianping Fu, Ph.D., Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan and the corresponding author of the paper being published at Nature discusses his team’s work in their lab with Jeyoon Bok, Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Photo Credit: Marcin Szczepanski, Michigan Engineering

The first stem cell culture method that produces a full model of the early stages of the human central nervous system has been developed by a team of engineers and biologists at the University of Michigan, the Weizmann Institute of Science, and the University of Pennsylvania.

“Models like this will open doors for fundamental research to understand early development of the human central nervous system and how it could go wrong in different disorders,” said Jianping Fu, U-M professor of mechanical engineering and corresponding author of the study in Nature.

The system is an example of a 3D human organoid—stem cell cultures that reflect key structural and functional properties of human organ systems but are partial or otherwise imperfect copies.

“We try to understand not only the basic biology of human brain development, but also diseases—why we have brain-related diseases, their pathology, and how we can come up with effective strategies to treat them,” said Guo-Li Ming, who along with Hongjun Song, both Perelman Professors of Neuroscience at UPenn and co-authors of the study, developed protocols for growing and guiding the cells and characterized the structural and cellular characteristics of the model.

Scientists develop biocompatible fluorescent spray that detects fingerprints in ten seconds

The researchers have made two different colored sprays, which detect fingerprints on a range of different surfaces.
Image Credit: Courtesy of University of Bath

Scientists have developed a water soluble, non-toxic fluorescent spray that makes fingerprints visible in just a few seconds, making forensic investigations safer, easier and quicker.

Latent fingerprints (LFPs) are invisible prints formed by sweat or oil left on an object after it’s been touched.

Traditional forensic methods for detecting fingerprints either use toxic powders that can harm DNA evidence, or environmentally damaging petrochemical solvents.

The new dye spray, developed by scientists at the Shanghai Normal University (China) and the University of Bath (UK), is water soluble, exhibits low toxicity and enables rapid visualization of fingerprints at the crime scene.

They have created two different colored dyes – called LFP-Yellow and LFP-Red – which bind selectively with the negatively-charged molecules found in fingerprints, locking the dye molecules in place and emitting a fluorescent glow that can be seen under blue light.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Learning How Cells Dispose of Unwanted Materials is Key to Potential New Therapeutics

Gary Kleiger, UNLV professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Sciences.
Photo Credit: Lonnie Timmons III / University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Are you sick and tired of getting sick and tired? A UNLV-led research team is exploring whether the reason we sometimes feel ill in the first place is because our body’s cells suffer from trash that accumulates within them.

Gary Kleiger, professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at UNLV, along with Brenda Schulman, director of the Munich-based Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, and their teams are working on ways to help our bodies hunt down and destroy disease-causing proteins. They’re the authors of a groundbreaking new study published Feb. 20 in the journal Molecular Cell that furthers our understanding of how enzymes called cullin-RING ligases (or CRLs) help cells get rid of proteins that are no longer needed. The results also point to a potential Achilles heel for proteins that make us ill. 

“Cullin-RING-ligases (CRLs) are complex nanomachines that are crucial for the cell’s intricate disposal and recycling systems,” said Schulman. “CRLs tag defective, toxic, or superfluous proteins with a small protein called ubiquitin, and mutations or malfunctions impairing CRLs are often associated with diseases, like developmental disorders or cancers.” 

Magnetic effects at the origin of life?

Biomolecules such as our genetic material, DNA, basically exist in two mirror-image forms; however, all living organisms only ever use one of them. Why this is the case is still unclear.
Image Credit: Gemini Advance

It's the spin that makes the difference

Biomolecules such as amino acids and sugars occur in two mirror-image forms – in all living organisms, however, only one is ever found. Why this is the case is still unclear. Researchers at Empa and Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany have now found evidence that the interplay between electric and magnetic fields could be at the origin of this phenomenon.

The so-called homochirality of life – the fact that all biomolecules in living organisms only ever occur in one of two mirror-image forms – has puzzled a number of scientific luminaries, from the discoverer of molecular chirality, Louis Pasteur, to William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) and Nobel Prize winner Pierre Curie. A conclusive explanation is still lacking, as both forms have, for instance, the same chemical stability and do not differ from each other in their physico-chemical properties. The hypothesis, however, that the interplay between electric and magnetic fields could explain the preference for one or the other mirror-image form of a molecule – so-called enantiomers – emerged early on.

It was only a few years ago, though, that the first indirect evidence emerged that the various combinations of these force fields can indeed "distinguish" between the two mirror images of a molecule. This was achieved by studying the interaction of chiral molecules with metallic surfaces that exhibit a strong electric field over short distances. The surfaces of magnetic metals such as iron, cobalt or nickel thus allow electric and magnetic fields to be combined in various ways – the direction of magnetization is simply reversed, from "North up – South down" to "South up – North down". If the interplay between magnetism and electric fields actually triggers "enantioselective" effects, then the strength of the interaction between chiral molecules and magnetic surfaces should also differ, for example – depending on whether a right-handed or left-handed molecule "settles" on the surface.

Where Neural Stem Cells Feel at Home

In the laboratory, the Bochum researchers are investigating which environment offers neural stem cells the best chances of survival.
Photo Credit: © RUB, Marquard

Injuries in the central nervous system heal poorly because cavities scar. Researchers hope to remedy this problem by filling the cavities in such a way that stem cells feel comfortable in them.

Researchers from Bochum and Dortmund have created an artificial cell environment that could promote the regeneration of nerves. Usually, injuries to the brain or spinal cord don’t heal easily due to the formation of fluid-filled cavities and scars that prevent tissue regeneration. One starting point for medical research is therefore to fill the cavities with a substance that offers neural stem cells optimal conditions for proliferation and differentiation. The team from Ruhr University Bochum and TU Dortmund University, both in Germany, showed that positively charged hydrogels can promote the survival and growth of stem cells.

Dr. Kristin Glotzbach and Professor Andreas Faissner from the Department of Cell Morphology and Molecular Neurobiology in Bochum cooperated with Professor Ralf Weberskirch and Dr. Nils Stamm from the Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at TU Dortmund University. The team describes the findings in the American Chemical Society Journal Biomaterials Science and Engineering.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Electrons screen against conductivity-killer in organic semiconductors

Muhamed Duhandžić, doctoral candidate and study author, writes the equations he and Zlatan Akšamija (left) derived to describe the physics happening inside the doped polymer.
Photo Credit: Harriet Richardson/University of Utah

California’s Silicon Valley and Utah’s Silicon Slopes are named for the element most associated with semiconductors, the backbone of the computer revolution. Anything computerized or electronic depends on semiconductors, a substance with properties that conduct electrical current under certain conditions. Traditional semiconductors are made from inorganic materials—like silicon—that require vast amounts of water and energy to produce.

For years, scientists have tried to make environmentally friendly alternatives using organic materials, such as polymers. Polymers are formed by linking small molecules together to make long chains. The polymerization process avoids many of the energy-intensive steps required in traditional semiconductor manufacturing and uses far less water and fewer gasses and chemicals. They’re also cheap to make and would enable flexible electronics, wearable sensors and biocompatible devices that could be introduced inside the body. The problem is that their conductivity, while good, is not as high as their inorganic counterparts.

All electronic materials require doping, a method of infusing molecules into semiconductors to boost conductivity. Scientists use molecules, called dopants, to define the conductive parts of electrical circuits. Doping in organic materials has vexed scientists because of a lack of consistency—sometimes dopants improve conductivity while other times they make it worse.  In a new study, researchers from the University of Utah and University of Massachusetts Amherst have uncovered the physics that drive dopant and polymer interactions that explain the inconsistent conductivity issue.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Discovery of new plant protein fold may be seed for anti-cancer drugs

The new protein fold from AhyBURP is found in the roots of the peanut plant. The protein uses copper and oxygen to form cyclic peptides. We can investigate how this chemistry occurs more thoroughly now that we know what the protein structure looks like.
Image Credit: Lisa Mydy / University of Michigan

University of Michigan researchers are celebrating their discovery of a new plant biochemistry and its unusual ability to form cyclic peptides—molecules that hold promise in pharmaceuticals as they can bind to challenging drug targets.

Cyclic peptides are an emerging and promising area of drug research.

A new study, led by U-M College of Pharmacy researchers Lisa Mydy and Roland Kersten, revealed a mechanism by which plants generate cyclic peptides.

Mydy identified the new plant protein fold and its novel chemistry, which she said had never been seen before. The protein can generate cyclic peptides, one of which holds potential as an anti-cancer drug.

“It’s extremely exciting,” said Mydy, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry. “This type of discovery doesn’t happen too often.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Bruised and bleeding: New materials show where they’re hurt

Sandia National Laboratories materials chemist Cody Corbin works in a glove box, preparing a container filled with bead bits that will turn brown if someone attempts to tamper with the container’s contents.
Photo Credit: Craig Fritz

Every over-the-counter medication bottle sports a protective seal, usually a plastic wrap or foam layer, or both. These seals offer signs of tampering attempts. In a parallel concern, the International Atomic Energy Agency relies on tamper-indicating devices to make sure it knows if containers of nuclear material have been opened or tampered with.

However, just as a medication bottle might be opened and the tamper seals carefully reattached by a bad guy, the IAEA is concerned its devices could be bypassed and repaired or counterfeited. A possible solution? Engineers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed a groundbreaking prototype using “bruising” materials. Their innovation doesn’t just detect tampering; the new device boldly displays the evidence, like battle scars.

“Our first idea was to create a ‘bleeding’ material where it was extremely obvious that it had been tampered with,” said Heidi Smartt, a Sandia electrical engineer and project lead. “Then we made a new device using these materials where the damage is obvious for people to see. No one has ever done this sort of concept for international nuclear safeguards before.”

Monday, February 12, 2024

Research makes key advance for capturing carbon from the air

Vanadium, one of the CO2 capture materials, displaying a brilliant deep purple color
Image Credit: May Nyman, chemistry professor, OSU College of Science

A chemical element so visually striking it was named for a goddess that shows a “Goldilocks” level of reactivity – neither too much nor too little – that makes it a strong candidate as a carbon scrubbing tool.

The element is vanadium, and research by Oregon State University scientists has demonstrated the ability of vanadium peroxide molecules to react with and bind carbon dioxide – an important step toward improved technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The study is part of a $24 million federal effort to develop new methods for direct air capture, or DAC, of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that’s produced by the burning of fossil fuels and is associated with climate change.

Facilities that filter carbon from the air have begun to spring up around the globe but they’re still in their infancy. Technologies for mitigating carbon dioxide at the point of entry into the atmosphere, such as at power plants, are more well developed. Both types of carbon capture will likely be needed if the Earth is to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change, scientists say.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Nanoscale Analysis Provides Key Answers for Modeling Mineralization in Basalt

A methodology on resolving nanoscale processes during carbon mineralization—discovered and led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Post Doctoral Researcher Xiaoxu Li and Chemist Emily Nienhuis—provides insight into the previous knowledge gaps needed for accurate reservoir models.  
Composite Credit: Mike Perkins | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial emissions and from the atmosphere and then safely storing it into the Earth’s deep subsurface is becoming increasingly essential to meeting decarbonization goals and preserving a livable planet.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) scientists discovered how to store supercritical CO2—carbon dioxide in its fluid state—in basalt reservoirs safely and permanently. This process is called geologic carbon sequestration, or carbon mineralization. But for the technology to be deployed commercially in the United States a Class VI well permit must first be attained.

“In order to apply for and be issued this permit, there has to be what is called a reservoir model for us to understand the fate and behavior of the injected CO2,” said PNNL Chemist Emily Nienhuis. “In other words, if we inject x amount of CO2 into a reservoir, where does it go? And how long does it take to mineralize or become rock?”

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Multitasking microbes: UW–Madison scientists engineer bacteria to make two valuable products from plant fiber

Ben Hall, Genetics Ph.D. Student, holds a mixed sample of microbes and carotenoids, in Tim Donohue’s lab.
Photo Credit: Chelsea Mamott

We often look to the smallest lifeforms for help solving the biggest problems: Microbes help make foods and beverages, cure diseases, treat waste and even clean up pollution. Yeast and bacteria can also convert plant sugars into biofuels and chemicals traditionally derived from fossil fuels — a key component of most plans to slow climate change.

Now University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers have engineered bacteria that can produce two chemical products at the same time from underutilized plant fiber. And unlike humans, these multitasking microbes can do both things equally well.

“To my knowledge, it’s one of the first times you can make two valuable products simultaneously in one microbe,” says Tim Donohue, UW–Madison professor of bacteriology and director of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

The discovery, detailed in a paper in the December issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, could help make biofuels more sustainable and commercially viable.

“In principle, the strategy lowers the net greenhouse gas emissions and improves the economics,” Donohue says. “The amount of energy and greenhouse gas that you need to make two products in one pot is going to be less than running two pots to make one product in each pot.”

Novel Catalyst System for CO2 Conversion

Kevinjeorjios Pellumbi with the experimental setup for CO2 conversion
Photo Credit: © RUB, Marquard

Researchers are constantly pushing the limits of technology by breaking new ground in CO2 conversion. Their goal is to turn the harmful greenhouse gas into a valuable resource.

Research groups around the world are developing technologies to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into raw materials for industrial applications. Most experiments under industrially relevant conditions have been carried out with heterogeneous electrocatalysts, i.e. catalysts that are in a different chemical phase to the reacting substances. However, homogeneous catalysts, which are in the same phase as the reactants, are generally considered to be more efficient and selective. To date, there haven’t been any set-ups where homogeneous catalysts could be tested under industrial conditions. A team headed by Kevinjeorjios Pellumbi and Professor Ulf-Peter Apfel from Ruhr University Bochum and the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT in Oberhausen has now closed this gap. The researchers outlined their findings in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science.

“Our work aims to push the boundaries of technology in order to establish an efficient solution for CO2 conversion that will transform the climate-damaging gas into a useful resource,” says Ulf-Peter Apfel. His group collaborated with the team led by Professor Wolfgang Schöfberger from the Johannes Kepler University Linz and researchers from the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Researchers uncover on/off switch for breast cancer metastasis

Songnan Wang (left) and Lingyin Li (right) found that a protein called ENPP1 acts as an on/off switch for breast cancer metastases. High protein levels lead to a high chance of metastasis (as seen by cells growing in the dish on the left), while low levels lead to no metastasis (as seen by no cells growing in the dish on the right).
Photo Credit: Lingyin Li and Songnan Wang

New research from Stanford and the Arc Institute could lead to a new and more effective immunotherapy and help clinicians better predict patient response to existing medicines.

Despite their promise, immunotherapies fail to treat many cancers, including over 80% of some of the most advanced breast cancers. And many of those patients who do respond still experience metastases eventually. New research from Stanford University and the Arc Institute has revealed a better way to predict and improve patient responses.

A team led by Lingyin Li, associate professor of biochemistry at Stanford and Arc Core Investigator, found that a protein called ENPP1 acts as an on/off switch that controls breast cancer’s ability to both resist immunotherapy and metastasize. The study, published on Dec. 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that ENPP1 is produced by cancer cells and by healthy cells in and around the tumor, and that high patient ENPP1 levels are linked to immunotherapy resistance and subsequent metastases. The research could lead to new, more effective immunotherapies and help clinicians better predict patient response to existing medicines.

“Our study should offer hope for everyone,” said Li, who is also an institute scholar at Sarafan ChEM-H.

A Trillion Scents. One Nose.

The genome inside an olfactory cell’s nucleus is shown as a tangle of color-marked chromosomes with genomic locations of olfactory receptor genes revealed on the right
Illustration Credit: Lomvardas lab, Columbia's Zuckerman Institute

The mammalian nose is a work of evolutionary art. Its millions of nerve cells, each tailored with just one of thousands of specific odor-chemical receptors encoded in the genome, can collectively distinguish a trillion distinct scents. Those sensations, in turn, inform many behaviors, from assessing food options to discerning friends from foes to sparking memories. 

Today, in the journal Nature, a research team led by scientists at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute describes a previously undetected mechanism in mice—starring the genetic molecule RNA—that could explain how each sensory cell, or neuron, in mammalian noses becomes tailored to detect a specific odor chemical. 

For example, there are sensory neurons in our noses that bear receptors uniquely tuned to detect ethyl vanillin, the main odorant in vanilla, and other cells with receptors for limonene, lemon’s signature odorant.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Molecular jackhammers’ ‘good vibrations’ eradicate cancer cells

Ciceron Ayala-Orozco is a research scientist in the Tour lab at Rice University, and lead author on the study.
Photo Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

The Beach Boys’ iconic hit single “Good Vibrations” takes on a whole new layer of meaning thanks to a recent discovery by Rice University scientists and collaborators, who have uncovered a way to destroy cancer cells by using the ability of some molecules to vibrate strongly when stimulated by light.

The researchers found that the atoms of a small dye molecule used for medical imaging can vibrate in unison ⎯ forming what is known as a plasmon ⎯ when stimulated by near-infrared light, causing the cell membrane of cancerous cells to rupture. According to the study published in Nature Chemistry, the method had a 99 percent efficiency against lab cultures of human melanoma cells, and half of the mice with melanoma tumors became cancer-free after treatment.

“It is a whole new generation of molecular machines that we call molecular jackhammers,” said Rice chemist James Tour, whose lab has previously used nanoscale compounds endowed with a light-activated paddlelike chain of atoms that spins continually in the same direction to drill through the outer membrane of infectious bacteria, cancer cells and treatment-resistant fungi.

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