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Plants to plastics made sweet and simple

Sustainable polyesters through the direct functionalization of lignocellulosic sugars


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    The 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Benjamin List and David MacMillan for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis. In recognition of this award, Nature Portfolio presents a collection of research, review and opinion articles that focus on the origins, the development and the future directions inspired by the topic.

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  • Proteins rich in phenylalanine-glycine (FG) repeats can phase separate through FG–FG interactions. The molecular interactions of an important FG-repeat protein, nucleoporin 98, have now been studied in liquid-like transient and amyloid-like cohesive states. These interactions underlie the behaviour of FG-repeat proteins and their function in physiological and pathological cell activities.

    • Alain Ibáñez de Opakua
    • James A. Geraets
    • Markus Zweckstetter
    Article Open Access
  • A method has been developed to identify RNA transcript isoforms at the single-molecule level using solid-state nanopore microscopy. In this method, target RNA is refolded into RNA identifiers with designed sets of complementary DNA strands. Each reshaped molecule carries a unique sequence of structural (pseudo)colours that enables identification and quantification using solid-state nanopore microscopy.

    • Filip Bošković
    • Ulrich Felix Keyser
  • The principal mid-visible light-harvesting system in cyanobacteria is the phycobilisome. Now, using broadband multidimensional spectroscopy, delocalized vibronic excitations and sub-picosecond excitation transfer pathways have been observed in the rods of intact phycobilisomes. An observed kinetic bottleneck in the phycobilisome’s core arises from the intramolecular charge-transfer character of the bilin chromophores, enabling photoregulatory processes to operate on the >10-ps timescale.

    • Sourav Sil
    • Ryan W. Tilluck
    • Warren F. Beck
  • The total synthesis and complete stereochemical assignment of the cyclic peptide natural product SR-A3—which has potential as a cancer therapeutic—has now been reported. Single-molecule biophysical and cellular experiments reveal a crucial, stereospecific role for a side-chain hydroxyl in SR-A3, which confers enhanced target residence time and efficacy in a mouse tumour model.

    • Hao-Yuan Wang
    • Haojun Yang
    • Jack Taunton
  • Noyori-type hydrogenation catalysts consist of an N–H moiety coordinated to a metal centre. Now, a metal-hydride amidate complex (HMn–NLi) has been isolated and found to have superior reactivity and catalytic performance compared with the corresponding HMn–NH complex, highlighting the superiority of M/NM′ bifunctional catalysis over the classic M/NH bifunctional catalysis for hydrogenation reactions.

    • Yujie Wang
    • Shihan Liu
    • Qiang Liu
  • The reduction of nitrite (NO2) to nitric oxide (NO), relevant to the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle as well as radioactive waste, typically occurs at redox-active metal centres. Now, a Lewis acid-capped nitrite has been reduced to the nitrite dianion (NO22−), a nitrogen-centred radical that connects three redox levels in the global nitrogen cycle through NO2, NO and N2O.

    • Valiallah Hosseininasab
    • Ida M. DiMucci
    • Timothy H. Warren
    • Aqueous organic redox flow batteries are promising for low-cost and large-scale energy storage, but the redox-active molecules they rely on degrade prematurely. Now, a facile electrochemical protocol to regenerate them has been proposed, resulting in extended battery lifetimes.

      • Antoni Forner-Cuenca
      News & Views
    • Quantitatively studying the partitioning of biomolecules and reaction equilibria in cellular systems is an enormous challenge. Now, a multiphase coacervate model system provides insight into this complex biological problem, illustrating how coexisting phases influence RNA partitioning and duplex dissociation.

      • Shuqi Wu
      • Liangfei Tian
      News & Views
    • Amines with free N–H groups have long posed a tremendous challenge in transition metal-catalysed amination reactions. Now, use of a bidentate phosphorus ligand enables the palladium-catalysed oxidative amination of simple olefins with Lewis basic amines, with no prefunctionalization, forming both alkyl and aryl allylamines.

      • Logan E. Vine
      • Jennifer M. Schomaker
      News & Views
    • The application of machine learning to big data, to make quantitative predictions about reaction outcomes, has been fraught with failure. This is because so many chemical-reaction data are not fit for purpose, but predictions would be less error-prone if synthetic chemists changed their reaction design and reporting practices.

      • Jacqueline M. Cole
      News & Views
    • A grand challenge for bio-based plastics is the ability to cost-effectively manufacture high-performance polymers directly from renewable resources that are also recyclable-by-design. A one-step conversion of xylose to polyesters has been reported, combining a sustainable lifecycle with impressive materials performance.

      • Robin M. Cywar
      • Gregg T. Beckham
      News & Views
  • Lukas Veth and Paweł Dydio discuss the importance of ligands in transition metal catalysis, looking at the success story of xantphos and why it should earn the title of ‘privileged ligand’.

    • Lukas Veth
    • Paweł Dydio
    In Your Element
  • Bruce Gibb suggests that chemists can play a central role in democratizing access to energy by focusing on common elements.

    • Bruce C. Gibb
  • Tova N. Williams explores the history of madder, its components and the perhaps confusing terminology that surrounds this long-known source of red colour.

    • Tova N. Williams
    In Your Element
  • Choline 2-hexenoate is an ionic compound that is a liquid at room temperature, and is just one of a class of compounds that have huge potential in biomedical research and clinical applications, explains Eden E. L. Tanner.

    • Eden E. L. Tanner
    In Your Element
  • Michelle Francl explores how glass revolutionized chemistry.

    • Michelle Francl
  • The tris(2,2′-bipyridine)ruthenium(II) cation, or ‘rubipy’ to its friends, has had a significant influence on our understanding of the photophysics of transition metal complexes, and has also helped revolutionize organic photochemistry, explains Daniela M. Arias-Rotondo.

    • Daniela M. Arias-Rotondo
    In Your Element

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