ACS ChemMatters Magazine
An ancient chemical process enabled Earth to become a lush place teeming with life. Now researchers are replicating this process in an attempt to slow global warming.
Every plant, animal, and person owes their life to one sequence of chemical reactions: photosynthesis. The process, which converts water and carbon dioxide into food using sunlight, first evolved in cyanobacteria more than 2 billion years ago.
That’s right. Plants weren’t the ﬁrst organisms to develop photosynthesis, though they are better known for it. Cyanobacteria are the ones that originally ﬁlled the atmosphere with photosynthesis’s gaseous by-product, oxygen (O2), which set the stage for more diverse life on Earth.
As beneﬁciaries of photosynthesis, humans depend on plants in a sort of carbon seesaw. Plants take in CO2 and release O2. They store that carbon as sugar. Hanging vines, grass, and trees all grow by pulling carbon atoms out of the air. We do the reverse, taking in O2 and releasing CO2. Finally, everything we eat completes the handoff: Human eats plant (or the animal who already did), human exhales, plant stores carbon, and the cycle continues.
This seesaw is part of the much broader carbon cycle that has affected the radiation balance of our planet. Cutting down huge swaths of forests and the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels causes the levels of CO2, a major greenhouse gas, to rise. And plants on Earth along with other natural parts of the carbon cycle can’t restore the balance on their own.
But what if we could copy what plants do to grab some of that excess CO2 to make fuels sustainably, instead of relying so heavily on fossilized carbon?
Read the full story in the October 2021 issue of ChemMatters
The new finding underscores the complexity of marine mammals’ social life and cognition. It may also help save the snoopy cetaceans.
YOU’D THINK IT would be easier to spy on a Risso’s dolphin. The species frequents nearly every coast in the world. Their bulging heads and streaky gray and white patterning make them some of the most recognizable creatures in the ocean. And as with other cetaceans, they travel in groups and constantly chitchat: Clicks, buzzes, and whistles help them make sense of their underwater existence. Their social world is a sonic one.
“They’re a very vocal species,” says Charlotte Curé, a bioacoustics expert. “Sound is very important for them.”
Read the full story in WIRED
A field test of custom-designed homes proves that when carbon dioxide can flow out, mosquitoes stay out too.
WHEN STEVE LINDSAY first traveled to Gambia in 1985, he met a man living in Tally Ya village whom he remembers as “the professor.” The professor knew how to keep the mosquitoes away.
That’s a big deal for people who live in this small West African country, which serves as the namesake for one of the most deadly bugs on the planet: Anopheles gambiae. “It’s probably the best vector of malaria in the world,” says Lindsay, a public health entomologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom. Malaria kills 384,000 people a year in Africa, 93 percent of whom are under 5 years old. The mosquito exploits human behavior by feeding at night when people are sleeping, transmitting the Plasmodium parasite that causes flu-like symptoms, organ failure, and death. “It’s adapted for getting inside houses and biting people,” says Lindsay.
Read the full story in WIRED
A new tool from the space agency may produce the gas, completing the next step for planning a round trip voyage
Putting boots on Mars isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier than bringing them back.
This week, NASA launches its Perseverance rover on a one-way trip to the surface of Mars. Among many other tools, the craft carries an experimental instrument that could help astronauts in the future make roundtrip voyages to the planet. The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE, is small, about the size of a car battery. It’s designed to demonstrate a technology that converts carbon dioxide into oxygen with a process called electrolysis. Mars’ thin atmosphere is 95 percent carbon dioxide, but sending anything back into space requires fuel, and burning that fuel requires oxygen. NASA could ship liquid oxygen to the planet, but the volume needed takes up a good deal of space.
MOXIE could show the way to a solution.
Read the full story in Smithsonian
Meticulously organised fatty acids are responsible for the bacteria-killing, superhydrophobic nanostructures on cicada wings. The team behind the discovery hopes that its work will inspire antimicrobial surfaces that mimic cicada wings for use in settings such as hospitals.
When in contact with dust, pollen and – importantly – water, the cicadas’ superhydrophobic wings repel matter to self-clean. These extraordinary properties are down to fatty acid nanopillars, periodically spaced and of nearly uniform height, that cover the wings.
Past work has generally only described cicadas’ wings as ‘waxy’ and not explained how these fatty acids nanopillars give rise to unique traits. Nor is it known exactly why cicada wings evolved antibacterial nanostructures. These gaps in our knowledge exist, in part, because of how diverse the cicada family is. But Marianne Alleyne’s group at the University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign, along with colleagues at Sandia National Labs, set out to understand what role chemistry plays in the wings of two evolutionarily divergent species.
Read the full story in Chemistry World