ACS: Poly want an enzyme?

Polymers and biology, together in perfect harmony. This meeting has intrigued me with a number of sessions about bio-related polymers. Timothy Long’s group had two: one about determining which physical properties of polymers make the best vectors for gene therapy, and one about using DNA base pairs to make a polymer with two sets of properties. Heat it to disassociate the base pairs, and you get a flowy substance, cool to clamp them together again, and you’ve got something strong enough to do something with. Plus, there’s bio-inspired dental polymers from Temple University, enzymes in polymers for sensors from Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, and polymers derived from soybean oil, feathers, and rice. Finally, there was a presentation on making better cigarette filters from Salmon sperm, from the Ogata Research Laboratory, Ltd.  Read more

ACS: butternut squash soup

J.J. La Clair, the controversial chemist (for background, see http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060731/full/442492c.html) in the mutton chop sideburns, gave a talk today to a packed room. It was hot, stuffy, and young in there, as he talked us, mic-less, through what he called “an approach used in a number of labs that I’ve developed, optimized and made easier to use.” As far as I could tell as a layman, the approach had to do with designing synthesis of natural products with florescent labeling and biological tests in mind. I’ll leave an evaluation of the technical content to others more synthesis (or biology)-savvy than I. I’ll just mention that his first slide talked about his Xenobe Research Institute (which is pronounced “zen-OH-bee”). His slide said that the company was working on 80 studies with academe, industry and government. He must be a pretty busy man.  Read more

ACS: Conference bon bons

-Our gung-ho enthusiasm for antidepressants mean that there is a certain amount of Prozac in the water these days. Freshwater mussels are less than pleased, though, since Prozac is making them release their larvae before they are viable. Freshwater mussels are sensitive creatures, and 70 percent of the species native to North America are extinct.  Read more

ACS: Clicking and beeping

I went to a talk on by UCSB’s Robert Vestberg, on “Synthesis of hydrogels with well defined network structure using Click chemistry”, because I have been hearing this buzzword floating around – “click chemistry”—and I wanted to figure out what it was.  Read more

ACS: Mongolian Licorice

This meeting has it all. Today I caught a wonderful presentation by Frank Lee of Nanchang University about efforts to introduce “Good Agriculture Practice” or GAP (See the FAO’s page on this approach here), on the growing of herbs for traditional medicines. The idea is to make sure the medicines are what they purport to be, are not chock-full of mercury or other toxins, and are being harvested in a sustainable way.  Read more

ACS: Against “molecular gastronomy”

The hype-heavy world of haute cuisine has recently been rolling its tongue over the phrase “molecular gastronomy”, said to be practiced by such chefs célèbres as Pierre Gagnaire and Ferran Adrià. The trend is for innovative foods, and new ingredients. Shrimp treated with protein-knitting enzymes, so it can be coaxed into noodle shape, glass-like spheres of isomalt, filled with the smoke from roasting mushrooms, flavored foam.  Read more

ACS: Fuelmen

Went to some sessions on hydrogen storage (you know, so that cars can run around emitting just clean, pure water vapor, and so that we can enter the “hydrogen economy”) today and was introduced to ammonia borate by Bill Tumas of Los Alamos. I liked him, because he kept telling us “the hard cold facts”. I’ve heard people talk about the “cold hard facts,” but somehow, the “hard cold facts” seem even more bitterly inevitable. One of these was that no one has found a solution to storing hydrogen. The other is that his favorite candidate—ammonia borate—is not going to slot neatly into the current infrastructure.  Read more

ACS: Big in America

The conference gets underway even before my plane lands. A fellow from a microscopy concern is leaning across the aisle chatting to a chemist about his latest model. In the airport shuttle to downtown, chemists wedge inside the van, their poster tubes making the whole process seems like some complex protein folding problem. And today the streets of downtown San Francisco are alive with chemists—teeming with badged hordes looking for a cup of coffee between sessions.  Read more