Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

History

Ingenious solutions sparked by a crisis

Researchers have taken to recycling laboratory helium in the face of dwindling supplies resulting from the blockade of Qatar (Nature 547, 16; 2017). Such extreme situations have also prompted other scientists to devise imaginative alternatives in the past.

In the First World War, for example, German naval blockades caused a shortage of acetone and butanol, both essential for munitions. Chaim Weizmann at the University of Manchester, UK (a scientist who later became president of Israel), promptly invented a process for making both chemicals in bulk from starch fermentation using the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum.

And a British naval blockade, in turn, propelled German scientists into hijacking another fermentation process to create glycerol, needed to synthesize the explosive trinitroglycerine. They used bisulfite to divert the fermentation of sugars in yeast into glycerol instead of ethanol (go.nature.com/2vkvq7k).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Biswa Prasun Chatterji.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Chatterji, B. Ingenious solutions sparked by a crisis. Nature 548, 281 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/548281e

Download citation

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing