The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2006 to Prof Roger D. Kornberg of Stanford University (Stanford, CA, USA) "for his studies of the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription".
In order for our bodies to make use of the information stored in the genes, a copy must first be made and transferred to the outer parts of the cells. There it is used as an instruction for protein production – it is the proteins that in their turn actually construct the organism and its function. The copying process is called transcription. Roger Kornberg was the first to create an actual picture of how transcription works at a molecular level in the important group of organisms called eukaryotes (organisms whose cells have a well-defined nucleus). Mammals like ourselves are included in this group, as is ordinary yeast.
Transcription is necessary for all life. This makes the detailed description of the mechanism that Roger Kornberg provides exactly the kind of "most important chemical discovery" referred to by Alfred Nobel in his will.
If transcription stops, genetic information is no longer trans ferred into the different parts of the body. Since these are then no longer renewed, the organism dies within a few days. This is what happens in cases of poisoning by certain toadstools, like the death cap, since the toxin stops the transcription process. Understanding of how transcription works also has a fundamental medical importance. Disturbances in the transcription process are involved in many human illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and various kinds of inflammation.
The capacity of stem cells to develop into different types of specific cells with well-defined functions in different organs, is also linked to how the transcription is regulated. Understanding more about the transcription process is therefore important for the development of different therapeutic applications of stem cells.
Forty-seven years ago, the then twelve-year-old Roger Kornberg came to Stockholm to see his father, Arthur Kornberg, receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1959) for his studies of how genetic information is transferred from one DNA-molecule to another. Kornberg senior had described how genetic information is transferred from a mother cell to its daughters. What Roger Kornberg himself has now done is to describe how the genetic information is copied from DNA into what is called messenger-RNA. The messenger-RNA carries the information out of the cell nucleus so that it can be used to construct the proteins.
Kornberg's contribution has culminated in his creation of detailed crystallographic pictures describing the transcription apparatus in full action in a eukaryotic cell. In his pictures (all of them created since 2000) we can see the new RNA-strand gradually developing, as well as the role of several other molecules necessary for the transcription process. The pictures are so detailed that separate atoms can be distinguished and this makes it possible to understand the mechanisms of transcription and how it is regulated.
Earth's most severe mass extinction - an event 250 million years ago that wiped out 90 percent of all marine species and 70 percent of land vertebrates - was triggered by a collision with a comet or asteroid, according to a team led by The University of Washington, Seattle, USA. Evidence is based upon elegant findings involving carbon molecules called buckminsterfullerenes (C60, Buckyballs) with the gases helium and argon trapped inside their cage structures.
The scientists do not know the site of the impact 250 million years ago, when all Earth's land formed a supercontinent called Pangea. However, the space body left a calling card - a much higher level of complex carbon molecules called buckminsterfullerenes, or Buckyballs, with the noble (or chemically nonreactive) gases helium and argon trapped inside their cage structures. Fullerenes, which contain 60 or more carbon atoms and have a structure resembling a soccer ball or a geodesic dome, are named for Buckminster Fuller, who invented the geodesic dome.
The researchers know these particular Buckyballs are extraterrestrial because the noble gases trapped inside have an unusual ratio of isotopes. For instance, terrestrial helium is mostly helium-4 and contains only a small amount of helium-3, while extraterrestrial helium - the kind found in these fullerenes - is mostly helium-3.
"These things form in carbon stars. That's what's exciting about finding fullerenes as a tracer," according to Luann Becker, one of scientific team involved. The extreme temperatures and gas pressures in carbon stars are perhaps the only way extraterrestrial noble gases could be forced inside a fullerene, she said. These gas-laden fullerenes were formed outside the Solar System, and their concentration at the Permian-Triassic boundary means they were delivered by a comet or asteroid.
This is interesting. NASA scientists are examining a seemingly magical way to produce high-quality crystals.
Perhaps a NASA laboratory is an unlikely setting for a magic show. Nevertheless, this is where Frank Szofran and colleagues are growing high-quality crystals using a method as amazing as any conjuring trick. By carefully cooling a molten germanium-silicon mixture inside a cylindrical container, they coax it into forming a single large and extraordinarily well-ordered crystal. Such crystals have very few defects because, remarkably, they never touched the walls of the very container in which they grew.
Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, USA, have discovered that nanocrystals of germanium embedded in silica glass don't melt until the temperature rises almost 200 degrees Kelvin above the melting temperature of germanium in bulk. What's even more surprising, these melted nanocrystals have to be cooled more than 200 K below the bulk melting point before they resolidify. Such a large and nearly symmetrical "hysteresis" -- the divergence of melting and freezing temperatures above and below the bulk melting point -- has never before been observed for embedded nanoparticles.
"Melting and freezing points for materials in bulk have been well understood for a long time," says Eugene Haller (one of the authors) , "but whenever an embedded nanoparticle's melting point goes up instead of down, it requires an explanation. With our observations of germanium in amorphous silica and the application of a classical thermodynamic theory that successfully explains and predicts these observations, we've made a good start on a general explanation of what have until now been regarded as anomalous events."
The research was conducted because the properties of germanium nanoparticles embedded in amorphous silicon dioxide matrices have promising applications. "Germanium nanocrystals in silica have the ability to accept charge and hold it stably for long periods, a property which can be used in improved computer memory systems. Moreover, germanium dioxide (germania) mixed with silicon dioxide (silica) offers particular advantages for forming optical fibers for long-distance communication."1
- 1. Large Melting-Point Hysteresis of Ge Nanocrystals Embedded in SiO2,
, Physical Review Letters, Volume 97, Number 15, p.155701, (2006)
Nobel laureate Richard Smalley, the Rice University professor who helped discover buckyballs (buckminsterfullerene, C60, the football (soccer) ball shaped form of carbon, died at the age of 62. Richard Smalley shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Sir Harold Kroto (Sussex) and Robert Curl (also Rice) for the identification of the new form of carbon known as buckminsterfullerene because of its similarity to Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes. The Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology continues to champion the efforts of Smalley through research, educational and community programs, corporate partnerships, and government relations.
Workers at The University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA have managed to release thin membranes of semiconductors from a substrate and transfer them to new surfaces. The freed membranes which are just tens of nanometers thick retain all the properties of silicon in wafer form but the nanomembranes are flexible. By varying the thicknesses of the silicon and silicon-germanium layers composing them, membrane shapes are possible ranging from flat to curved to tubular.
Potential applications include flexible electronic devices, faster transistors, nano-size photonic crystals that steer light, and lightweight sensors for detecting toxins in the environment or biological events in cells.
The scientists made a three-layer nanomembrane composed of a thin silicon-germanium layer sandwiched between two silicon layers of similar thinness. The membrane sat upon a silicon dioxide layer in a silicon-on-insulator substrate. The nanomembranes may be etched away from the oxide layer with hydrofluoric acid.
Although the Wisconsin team grew their nanomembranes on silicon-on-insulator substrates, the method should apply to many substances beyond semiconductors, such as ferroelectric and piezoelectric materials. The key requirement is a layer, like an oxide, that can be removed to free the nanomembranes.1
- 1. Elastically relaxed free-standing strained-silicon nanomembranes,
, Nature Materials, 5/2006, Volume 5, Issue 5, p.388 - 393, (2006)
Workers in the USA verify the production of element 114 in the reaction of 244-MeV 48Ca with 242Pu. Two chains of time- and position-correlated decays were assigned to 286114 and 287114. The observed decay modes, half-lives, and decay energies agree with the original claims of researchers at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research at Dubna in Russia. The Russian results were first reported in 1999. Such independent verification is vital for verification purposes. The measured cross sections at a center-of-target energy of 244 MeV for the 242Pu(48Ca,3–4n)287,286114 reactions were 1.4(+3.2, -1.2) pb each, which are lower than the reported values.1
- 1. Independent Verification of Element 114 Production in the Ca-48 + Pu-242 Reaction,
, Physical Review Letters, Volume 103, Number 13, p.132502, (2009)
Independent verification of the production of element 114 in the reaction of 244-MeV 48Ca with 242Pu is presented. Two chains of time- and position-correlated decays have been assigned to 286114 and 287114. The observed decay modes, half-lives, and decay energies agree with published results. The measured cross sections at a center-of-target energy of 244 MeV for the 242Pu(48Ca,3–4n)287,286114 reactions were 1.4(+3.2, -1.2) pb each, which are lower than the reported values.Independent Verification of Element 114 Production in the Ca-48 + Pu-242 Reaction, , Physical Review Letters, Volume 103, Number 13, p.132502, (2009)
The team of Berkeley Lab scientists that announced two years ago (1999) the observation of what appeared to be Element 118 (heaviest undiscovered transuranic element at the time) has retracted its original paper after several confirmation experiments failed to reproduce the results. This means that the pages for element 118 and parts of the data for element 116 are wrong.