Chemistry

Biological membranes are like a guarded border. They separate the cell from the environment and at the same time control the import and export of molecules.

The nuclear membrane can be crossed via many tiny pores. Scientists have discovered that proteins found within the nuclear pore function similar to a velcro. In a new paper, they report how these proteins can be used for controlled and selective transport of particles.

There is much traffic in our cells. Many proteins, for example, need to travel from their production site in the cytoplasm to the nucleus, where they are used to read genetic information. Pores in the nuclear membrane enable their transport into and out of the cell nucleus.


Erythritol is the sweetener most people in the western world have never heard about. It can only be produced with the help of special kinds of yeast in highly concentrated molasses but it has a number of advantages: it does not make you fat, it does not cause tooth decay, it has no effect on the blood sugar and, unlike other 'artificial' sweeteners, it does not have a laxative effect.

Erythritol is more common in Asia and researchers at TU Vienna have developed a method that could make it popular in the US and Europe - they can produce it from ordinary straw with the help of a mold fungus. The experiments have been a big success, and now the procedure will be optimized for industry.


Scientists have created a one-step process for producing highly efficient materials that let the maximum amount of sunlight reach a solar cell - by finding a simple way to etch nanoscale spikes into silicon that allows more than 99 percent of sunlight to reach the cells' active elements, where it can be turned into electricity.

The more light absorbed by a solar panel's active elements, the more power it will produce. But the light has to get there. Coatings in current use that protect the active elements let most light pass but reflect some as well.

Various strategies have cut reflectance down to about 6 percent but the anti-reflection is limited to a specific range of light, incident angle and wavelength.


An imbalance of female sex hormones caused by vegetarian foods like soy may be contributing to high levels of male obesity, according to a recent paper.


Glen Tickle, a comedian and Senior Editor at Geekosystem, recently received a lovely gift: a note card with a recipe for a chemical-free weedkiller.

A note card recipe! How grandmotherly!

Except there is nothing chemical-free about it. And Dawn dishwashing liquid was nothing my grandmother ever used, when it came out it was so quasi-futuristic and chemical-company new that it might as well have had a platinum blonde in a shiny costume for its advertisements:

 
Agricultural science has made magnificent strides in the last few decades. Where once was rampant concern about mass starvation and food riots, farmers in developed nations are now producing more food on more land than once thought possible.

But the quest to use even fewer pesticides continues. Products need to protect plants against fungal and insect attack but the goal is to do that with fewer negative effects on the environment. Researchers are working to improve plant protection and one strategy is optimizing the interaction between the plant's barrier, plant protection products and adjuvants that are added to increase the effect of plant protection. 

Conventional touchscreens often use coatings made of indium tin oxide (ITO) which are  brittle, may shatter and increasingly costly to manufacture but polymer scientists have developed a transparent electrode that could make displays shatterproof.

In a recent paper, they demonstrated how a transparent layer of electrodes on a polymer surface could be extraordinarily tough and flexible, withstanding repeated scotch tape peeling and bending tests.  


The nation's sewer system is aging and that means it is also wearing out with the risk of broken pipes leaking raw sewage into streets and living rooms. 


Essential oils have boomed in popularity as alternatives for synthetic cleaning products, anti-mosquito sprays and even medicines.

Why not use them to preserve food in a way that will appeal to the natural medicine crowd? 

Essential oils have been used therapeutically for centuries, mostly for mood altering and also for preservation. Today, they are being studied by tobacco companies, the cosmetics industry and, of course, food chemists. A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reports the development of new edible films containing oils from clove and oregano that preserve bread longer than commercial additives.


If you visit the best noodle houses in Asia, they will happily tell you their secret: The amino acid glutamate, boiled from dried seaweed or fermented soy, or gotten from a can, where it has been stabilized with salt and given the name monosodium glutamate (MSG). 

MSG is safe but some epidemiological and animal model studies have linked it to obesity and disorders associated with metabolic syndrome, including progressive liver disease. Other studies have disputed that.