Journal Club

Highlighting recent, timely papers selected by Academy member labs

Category Archives: Chemistry

Degradable plastic polymer breaks down in sunlight and air

Plastic trash chokes shorelines and oceans, in part because plastic polymers do not easily decompose. But a new kind of environmentally degradable plastic could help change that: It breaks down in about a week in sunlight and air, according to … Continue reading

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Newly observed forces help geckos stick to surfaces

Even the most advanced glues can’t match the remarkable toe of the gecko: Its impressive stickiness can be quickly deactivated and can support much more than the animal’s weight as it runs across surfaces smooth or rough, wet or dry, … Continue reading

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Transgenic switchgrass cleans up contamination from military explosives

At military sites in the United States and across the globe, routine live-fire trainings produce a downpour of an explosive known as RDX (hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine). A synthetic chemical, RDX can threaten human health, damaging the nervous system if inhaled or ingested. … Continue reading

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Heavy water tastes sweeter

In the 1930s, scientists discovered a heavier form of water. So-called “heavy water” (D2O) weighs more because the nucleus of each of its two hydrogen atoms contains not just a proton but a neutron as well. Known as deuterium, heavy … Continue reading

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How an animal’s teeth can reveal where it’s been

  A careful measurement of isotope ratios in animals’ teeth could offer a new way to closely track their movements, according to a recent study that showed how the approach would work in Mongolian sheep and goat herds. Tooth enamel … Continue reading

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Journal Club: Enzyme helps to speedily create a key chemical bond in the lab, suggesting synthetic chemistry applications 

With just a few chemical tweaks, cellular enzymes can turn some of the most common amino acids into unique compounds that possess antimicrobial or medicinal properties. But in the lab, it’s much harder to derive these molecules when using conventional … Continue reading

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Journal Club: New tool predicts which compounds taste bitter

Humans have 25 different taste receptors that register a range of bitter chemical compounds in everything from coffee and beer to dark chocolate and medicine. And yet, while humans can easily recognize bitterness, predicting whether a chemical compound will taste … Continue reading

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Journal Club: Study of volcanic gases offers new fundamental insights into the Earth’s carbon cycle

To understand how the planet’s climate will evolve and has evolved over geologic time, scientists need to understand the Earth’s carbon cycle. In work recently published  in Science, researchers offer new insights into that cycle, upending calculations about just how … Continue reading

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Journal Club: Ancient diet helps tell the story of Easter Island

Famous for its towering stone human figures, Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, has long been shrouded in mystery, with the demise of its people the subject of an intense debate. Now, new findings about what its residents ate hundreds of … Continue reading

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Journal Club: Engineered enzyme could streamline synthesis of nitrogen containing compounds

Researchers have re-engineered a bacterial enzyme to transform abundant alkanes into industrially important nitrogen-containing compounds that can be used to synthesize pharmaceuticals. In principle, the enzyme, now called P411CHA, could help streamline some methods for creating synthetic molecules, which often … Continue reading

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Journal Club: Shark blood compound offers up novel mechanism for stabilizing folded proteins

Sharks and other sea life often maintain high levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) in their blood, a compound vital to their surviving in the saline environment. TMAO helps maintain an osmotic balance between body tissues and sea water to prevent … Continue reading

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