This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bacteria - The New Chemists

A new wave of chemists is on the horizon – and they are called microbiologists. Every day, it seems, I read an article about the use of bacteria to perform chemical synthesis, a job that rightly belongs to chemistry graduate students. Hydrogen, biodiesel fuels, drugs, and a few other organic compounds whose names I don’t remember are being produced by trained bacteria. I don’t know how many of these processes are commercially viable.... yet.... but I’m afraid it’s only a matter of time before graduate students will have nothing left to do other than caring for the bacteria in their labs.

In a similar and yet totally unrelated vein, here is another report detailing the use of bacteria to remove uranium from waste water.

According to the report:
Bacteria, in this case, E. coli, break down a source of inositol phosphate (also called phytic acid), a phosphate storage material in seeds, to free the phosphate molecules. The phosphate then binds to the uranium forming a uranium phosphate precipitate on the bacterial cells that can be harvested to recover the uranium.”

While I’m sure we can probably always use another new technique for the removal of toxic heavy metals, I cannot help but wonder if having radioactive bacteria running around out in the open is such a good idea. I realize the radiation levels are pretty low, but this still seems like the basis for a movie on the Science Fiction channel.
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On another note, the 2009 Ig Noble awards have been announced and they are as funny as ever. The Chemistry prize goes to Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga, and Victor M. Castaño for creating diamonds from tequila. I sure hope they have an MSDS for the starting material. The link is here. Thanks to Anne Marie Helmenstine's blog for the original link.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is something I foresee as inevitable. Most enzymatic and bacterial processes are not commercially viable from what I have seen. But it seems like most syntheses are not either. Once we can design molecules with bacteria, graduate students in OChem are going to become obsolete. I don't see why so much work goes into synthesis these days when there is a so much better way to obtain our slave labor.

Mitch said...

The reason so much work goes into OChem is beacuse bacterial enzymes tent to be very specific for only a certain target.

For example, phenylacetone monooxygenase is great at catalyzing Baeyer−Villiger reactions but its scope is limited to only a few substrates.

Mitch

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Translate Trudy said...

Any solution or precaution is there for remove this bacteria from the root itself.

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