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    Tailor-made reverse transcriptases are used in molecular biology and synthetic genetics. However, re-engineering these enzymes to work with non-natural nucleic acids is difficult and requires powerful directed evolution strategies. Now, an adaptable selection approach has been demonstrated for the evolution of new reverse transcriptases.

    • Melanie Henkel
    •  & Andreas Marx
  • News & Views |

    Spin-1/2 kagome lattice antiferromagnets are geometrically frustrated materials poised to host yet-unobserved behaviours. Now, such a lattice has been prepared that shows no structural distortions and hosts its spin in the dxy orbital of d1 Ti3+ centres, rather than the more-widely investigated d9 Cu2+ ions.

    • Kelsey A. Collins
    •  & Danna E. Freedman
  • News & Views |

    It’s not known how life’s essential properties of replication, metabolism and compartmentalization were first integrated. Two recent articles now shed light on how metabolic characteristics may be incorporated into replicating systems, harnessing an external energy source to increase their rate of replication and acquiring catalytic activity.

    • Pablo Solís-Muñana
    •  & Jack L. Y. Chen
  • News & Views |

    The potential applications of smart photoswitchable porous materials are currently limited by incomplete switching. Now, efficient bulk switching has been achieved by embedding a photoisomerizable overcrowded alkene in a highly porous aromatic framework, creating a material capable of photomodulated gas uptake.

    • Jet-Sing M. Lee
    •  & Hiroshi Sato
  • News & Views |

    Is a nanoscale hydrophobic bowl wet or dry when dissolved in water? It turns out that the answer depends on the architecture of its rim. A molecular host decorated with four methyl groups around its rim pointing inward, rather than up, has now been shown to expel water from the bowl, making it dry and sticky.

    • Shekhar Garde
  • News & Views |

    Identifying chromatin modifications and their interactomes is imperative to understand how chromatin functions and is regulated. Now, two new studies report on chemical tools that enable characterization of the biological interactions within native chromatin.

    • Yi Zhang
    •  & Tatiana G. Kutateladze
  • News & Views |

    Three versatile and mutually orthogonal tRNA/aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase pairs have been developed. Collectively, these pairs enable the site-specific incorporation of three different non-canonical amino acids into a protein that can still be terminated faithfully by a natural stop codon.

    • Christopher D. Reinkemeier
    •  & Edward A. Lemke
  • News & Views |

    The direct conversion of lead compounds into potentially more potent derivatives, through selective functionalization, could help to speed up the discovery of drug candidates. Now, a method has been reported that enables the late-stage C–H methylation of complex drug-like molecules, using a sustainable cobalt-based catalyst.

    • Joanna Wencel-Delord
  • News & Views |

    Single-molecule magnets are able to store information through their magnetic anisotropy, making them very promising systems for memory applications. Now, femtosecond-laser-initiated molecular dynamics that modulate magnetic anisotropy have been observed, paving the way for operation on ultrafast timescales.

    • Eric Collet
  • News & Views |

    A series of mesoscale supramolecular hexagonal grids have been constructed in solution through stepwise intra- then intermolecular coordination-driven self-assembly, and characterized with atomic resolution by scanning tunnelling microscopy and spectroscopy.

    • Ruoning Li
    •  & Yongfeng Wang
  • News & Views |

    A balance between order and disorder provides living materials with just the right amount of disorder needed to sustain life. This feature is currently not found in synthetic materials. Now, a route to the production of composite membranes that are simultaneously stiff and reconfigurable upon contact has been developed.

    • Ankit Jain
    •  & Rein V. Ulijn
  • News & Views |

    Hydrogels that can respond to multiple external stimuli are typically prepared as a single or interpenetrated polymer network material. Now, water-in-oil droplet networks have been used to precisely pattern different stimuli-responsive materials into well-ordered, continuous hydrogel structures.

    • Abigail O. Delawder
    •  & Jonathan C. Barnes
  • News & Views |

    A heterodinuclear MgCo catalyst has been shown to be highly active for the copolymerization of CO2 and epoxides under low (atmospheric) CO2 pressures. Its performance arises from the intramolecular synergy between the two metals, which adopt distinct roles and mediate each other’s reactivity during catalysis.

    • Xiao-Bing Lu
  • News & Views |

    The widespread application of quinone methides — reactive intermediates in a variety of reactions — is limited by their tedious synthesis. Now, hypoiodite catalysis allows the efficient generation and use of these species in a plethora of tandem processes for the functionalization and synthesis of biologically active compounds.

    • Boris J. Nachtsheim
  • News & Views |

    Luminescent metal complexes play key roles in lighting, solar energy conversion, and photocatalysis. Now, a robust zirconium complex with spectacular photophysical properties has been synthesized that could inspire the design of fundamentally new types of photoactive coordination compounds.

    • Oliver S. Wenger
  • News & Views |

    Many current methods to prepare 2-hydroxybiaryls require the prefunctionalization of phenol groups or show limited substrate scope. Now, use of a pentavalent sulfone-bridged bismacycle, formed in situ by telescoped boron-to-bismuth transmetallation and oxidation, allows the direct and regioselective ortho-arylation of unprotected phenols.

    • Adrien Le Roch
    •  & Alexandre Gagnon
  • News & Views |

    RNA has multiple roles in biology, enabled by its structural diversity. Now, artificially grafted RNA motifs have been encoded in a single RNA strand to form self-assembling nanostructures with controlled geometry and function.

    • Qi Shen
    •  & Chenxiang Lin
  • News & Views |

    Although the application of force to induce chemical transformations is an active area of research, detailed understanding of these mechanochemical pathways is still lacking. Now, the mechanochemical activation of [4]-ladderane has been studied and found to exhibit unique non-equilibrium dynamic effects.

    • Vincenzo Lordi
  • News & Views |

    It is crucial to replace fossil fuel-based plastics with biodegradable ones that are made from renewable sources. Now, a new generation of bioplastics has been prepared through the stereoselective polymerization of diastereomeric monomers — a synthetic approach that allows tuning of the materials’ toughness, ductility and melting point.

    • Sonja Herres-Pawlis
  • News & Views |

    Monoclonal antibodies have shown tremendous success in cancer treatment; however, humanization for clinical applications is expensive and not straightforward. Now, molecularly imprinted polymer nanogels have been developed that can block cell-surface proteins and disrupt tumour spheroids.

    • Alessandra Maria Bossi
  • News & Views |

    Meroterpenoids are mixed terpenoid–polyketide natural products with a variety of biological activities. Now, a synthetic approach that combines biocatalytic oxidation with a range of other radical-based reactions enables the divergent synthesis of eight oxidized meroterpenoid natural products and one analogue.

    • Andrew Gomm
    •  & Adam Nelson
  • News & Views |

    Tertiary amines are poor directing groups for C(sp3)–H activation using Pdii catalysts due to favourable β-hydride elimination pathways. Now, an N-acetyl amino acid ligand is shown to shut down this deleterious pathway, enabling facile arylation of a highly medicinally relevant group of compounds.

    • Vinod G. Landge
    •  & Michael C. Young
  • News & Views |

    The tumour microenvironment has a specific enzymatic fingerprint, which provides opportunities for cancer therapy. Now, two studies show how this unique chemical environment can be used to produce reporter molecules or nanoclusters within the tumour that can subsequently be identified in urine or breath, enabling cancer detection and monitoring.

    • Alexander N. Zelikin
  • News & Views |

    Synthetic genetic circuits leverage the information processing capability of biological machinery to tackle complex sensing tasks, yet they lack many of the advantages inherent to electrical computation. Now, an interface has been designed that provides an electrical output for synthetic genetic circuits.

    • Robbyn K. Anand
    •  & Kira L. Rahn
  • News & Views |

    Flavin-dependent halogenases catalyse the regioselective formation of carbon–chlorine and carbon–bromine bonds using oxygen and inorganic halide salts. Now, genome mining has led to the discovery of a previously unknown viral halogenase that catalyses the iodination of arenes, thereby providing a rare biocatalytic tool for the formation of carbon–iodine bonds.

    • Christian Schnepel
    •  & Nicholas J. Turner
  • News & Views |

    Biological receptors distinguish between S- and R-enantiomers and these subtle differences in chirality can lead to vastly different protein affinities. Now, a proteomics approach has been developed that capitalizes on chirality to map enantiomeric probe pairs and provides a rapid and global view of protein ligandability within the cell.

    • Yuka Amako
    •  & Christina M. Woo
  • News & Views |

    The Catellani reaction is a multi-component cascade sequence, catalysed by palladium and norbornene, which typically uses aromatic starting materials. Now, through the use of a modified norbornene co-catalyst, the scope of this reaction has been extended to alkenyl reagents, enabling the preparation of all-carbon tetrasubstituted olefins.

    • Giovanni Maestri
    •  & Etienne Derat
  • News & Views |

    Hydrogen-bonded organic frameworks can readily encapsulate native enzymes and keep them active beyond biological conditions.

    • Rui-Biao Lin
    •  & Banglin Chen
  • News & Views |

    Although transporting a starship crewmember onto the surface of an alien planet is clearly science fiction, quantum state teleportation is not, and has been observed in various systems over the last few decades. Now, electron-spin teleportation has been observed in a carefully designed molecular system, paving the way for such behaviour to be tailored through molecular engineering.

    • Malcolm D. E. Forbes
  • News & Views |

    The in situ, nanoscale positioning of a single molecule below the diffraction limit remains a challenge for chemists. Now, two approaches show how this can be accomplished through a combination of super-resolution microscopy and photo-inducible crosslinking chemistry.

    • Limin Xiang
    •  & Ke Xu
  • News & Views |

    Nucleophiles directly substitute alcohols in the Mitsunobu reaction, but the process uses hazardous materials and generates an excessive amount of toxic waste. More than 50 years on from its initial discovery, chemists report a new catalytic version of the reaction, with water as the only by-product.

    • Andy McNally
  • News & Views |

    Frank–Kasper phases are topologically close-packed structures typically found in ordered mixtures of ‘hard particles’ such as metallic alloys. Now, a shape amphiphile has been shown to self-assemble into a Frank–Kasper Z phase, which had so far remained elusive in soft materials.

    • Abhiram Reddy
    •  & Gregory M. Grason
  • News & Views |

    The biosynthetic pathway that produces the structurally uncharacterized gut bacterial genotoxin colibactin can produce unstable, macrocyclic products; however, the extent to which these structures contribute to colibactin’s biological activities is not yet fully understood. Now, two recent studies have provided new insights and reached distinct conclusions regarding their potential mechanisms of action and relevance for genotoxicity.

    • Erik S. Carlson
    •  & Emily P. Balskus
  • News & Views |

    Interlocked molecules can exhibit chiral stereogenic elements that are not found in covalently bound systems. Now, the shuttling of the ring in a [2]rotaxane has been shown to result in enantiomeric co-conformations that selectively bind chiral guests.

    • Ellen M. G. Jamieson
    •  & Stephen M. Goldup
  • News & Views |

    Interphases that form on the anode surface of lithium-ion batteries are critical for performance and lifetime, but are poorly understood. Now, a decade-old misconception regarding a main component of the interphase has been revealed, which could potentially lead to improved devices.

    • Stefan A. Freunberger
  • News & Views |

    Proteins are biosynthesized from α-amino acids using hefty biological machinery, but the origin of this process on the early Earth is unclear. Now, a bottom-up approach for forming peptides, taking place under mild, prebiotically-plausible conditions, has been developed. This strategy uses α-aminonitrile precursors, bypassing α-amino acids entirely.

    • Robert Pascal
    •  & Irene A. Chen
  • News & Views |

    Due to the high oxidation potential of gold, the development of dual gold/photoredox-catalysed processes has been limited by the need for an easily reduced radical source. Now, discovery of an energy transfer photoexcitation process overcomes this limitation, enabling the oxidative addition of iodoalkynes onto organogold intermediates.

    • Euan B. McLean
    •  & Ai-Lan Lee
  • News & Views |

    Precipitation processes enable the fast preparation of a variety of inorganic materials, although typically with little control over their morphology. Now, their one-, two- or three-dimensional growth has been promoted simply by tuning the electrolytic dissociation of the reactants and the supersaturation of the solution.

    • Mihui Park
    • , Gi-Hyeok Lee
    •  & Yong-Mook Kang
  • News & Views |

    Aqueous batteries hold promise for large-scale energy storage, but are often maligned because of their low energy densities. Now, a demonstration of halogen conversion–intercalation chemistry inside graphite has blazed a trail for high-energy aqueous batteries.

    • Xianyong Wu
    •  & Xiulei Ji
  • News & Views |

    The chemical functionality necessary for the origin of life may have emerged from simple reactions assembled into complex networks. Now, it has been shown that prebiotically relevant heterogeneous reaction networks can generate robust oscillations within complex mixtures comprised of precursors that do not oscillate on their own.

    • Nathaniel Wagner
    •  & Gonen Ashkenasy
  • News & Views |

    Scientific progress often relies on applying published methodological advances to different problems. With the aim of improving both the uptake and reproducibility of chemical transformations, a new assessment tool has now been developed that provides a clear and easy-to-interpret overview of common factors that affect a synthetic method.

    • James J. Douglas
  • News & Views |

    Light is often used to trigger reactions, energetically exciting the reactant(s) to kick them over the intrinsic reaction barrier. Now, however, the reaction between an excited atom and a charged molecule at very low temperatures has been shown not to adhere to this paradigm, instead undergoing a reaction blockading effect.

    • Roland Wester
  • News & Views |

    Nature harnesses fractal geometry to create structures with unusual surface-to-volume ratios. Now, a new design approach enables the reversible assembly of functional enzymes into arboreal patterns with fractal geometry.

    • Iris D. Young
    •  & James S. Fraser
  • News & Views |

    The longstanding ‘polyelectrolyte theory of the gene’ proposes that a multiply charged backbone is the universal signature of all genetic polymer systems that support life. Now, the first tenable challenge to this theory has been mounted, through the successful engineering of enzymes which can synthesize and reverse-transcribe from an artificial, uncharged nucleic acid analogue.

    • Asha Brown
    •  & Tom Brown
  • News & Views |

    In biological systems, order typically emerges from out-of-equilibrium molecular processes that control both static patterns and dynamic changes. Now, the self-regulating assembly and disassembly of a synthetic system has been achieved on the micrometre scale, by coupling the growth of a DNA nanotube to a biochemical oscillator.

    • Tim Liedl
  • News & Views |

    Methods for generating molecular diversity provide a route to screen a wider section of chemical space, to discover compounds with useful biological properties. Now, a complexity-to-diversity strategy has enabled the discovery of a multi-cyclic structure from a complex natural product that induces ferroptotic cell death in cancer cells.

    • Tatiana Cañeque
    •  & Raphaël Rodriguez
  • News & Views |

    Bacterial communication is a potential strategy to control bacterial behaviours and thus, attenuate pathogen infectivity; however, identifying the signalling molecules that regulate communication pathways is challenging. Now, a robust strategy to rapidly identify previously unknown signalling peptides has been developed. This approach provides a means to map out and decipher bacterial signalling mechanisms.

    • Dominic N. McBrayer
    •  & Yftah Tal-Gan
  • News & Views |

    The direct formation of C–N bonds onto arenes provides a simple route to synthesize a variety of important products. Now, formation of a highly polarized, aminium radical cation enables direct C–H amination, allowing the coupling of an exceptionally broad range of alkyl amines and arenes.

    • David Nagib
  • News & Views |

    Natural products often provide lead scaffolds for the development of therapeutics, but complexity of their synthesis can limit the discovery of improved analogues. Pharmacophore-directed retrosynthesis aims to accelerate the building of a structure–activity relationship profile of a natural product, aiming to identifying a simplified lead.

    • Jason R. Hudlicky
    •  & Gary A. Sulikowski