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Volume 9 Issue 2, February 2017

Although scientists are able to reproduce many structural aspects of cellular compartmentalization found in biology, achieving mimicry of their social behaviours is somewhat more challenging. Now, Stephen Mann and co-workers have prepared a community of synthetic cell-like bodies, or protocells, in which ‘killer’ coacervate microdroplets (stylized on the cover in blue) target a population of proteinosomes (orange), lysing their membrane and capturing their payload. This research not only provides insight to how precursors to early cellular life may have operated, but also delivers a possible platform for new technologies.Article p110News & Views p107IMAGE: DR YAN QIAO, UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOLCOVER DESIGN: KAREN MOORE


  • Imagine a class without lessons, tests and homework, but with missions, quests and teamwork. Video games offer an attractive educational platform because they are designed to be fun and engaging, as opposed to traditional approaches to teaching through lectures and assignments.

    • Ronald A. Smaldone
    • Christina M. Thompson
    • Walter Voit


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  • The chemical universe is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. Bruce Gibb reminds us that it's somewhat messy too, and so we succeed by recognizing the limits of our knowledge.

    • Bruce Gibb
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News & Views

  • Molecular daisy-chain structures are typically made up of two interlocked components and can exhibit muscle-like contraction and extension in one dimension. Zinc-based multicomponent systems that can operate in two and three dimensions have now been designed and synthesized.

    • Karine Fournel-Marotte
    • Frédéric Coutrot
    News & Views
  • Attempts to build lifelike synthetic protocells must consider extracellular influences in order to accurately reflect the behaviours and characteristics of real ecosystems. Now, this concept has been demonstrated by the synthesis of a community of protocells in which one cell type preys upon another.

    • Sheref S. Mansy
    News & Views
  • Strong interactions between oxide supports and catalytic metal particles can lead to inhibitive oxide layers forming over the active metal catalyst. Now, adsorbate-induced metal–support interactions have been shown to lead to a porous overlayer in the Rh/TiO2 system that tunes catalyst activity, improving its selectivity for the partial reduction of CO2.

    • Bert D. Chandler
    News & Views
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  • The chemical construction of compartmentalized colloidal objects with biomimetic functions and collective properties is a key challenge in synthetic protocell research. Now, an interacting binary community of protocells has been designed to display artificial predatory behaviour in which protease-containing coacervate microdroplets obliterate a population of proteinosomes, and capture a chemical payload via a simple trafficking process.

    • Yan Qiao
    • Mei Li
    • Stephen Mann
  • Developing approaches to tune the reactivity and selectivity of supported-metal heterogeneous catalysts is critical for designing environmentally friendly chemical conversion processes. A reversible structural catalyst transformation has now been identified that involves the adsorbate-mediated encapsulation of Rh nanoparticles by their oxide support and enables dynamic tuning of the selectivity of CO2 reduction.

    • John C. Matsubu
    • Shuyi Zhang
    • Phillip Christopher
  • By exploiting structural rigidity, coordination geometries and bond rotational barriers that disfavour the formation of smaller homologues, molecular switches based on [c3] and [c4]daisy chains have been assembled selectively; they display muscle-like motion in multiple dimensions with changes in length of approximately 23% and 36%, respectively.

    • Jia-Cheng Chang
    • Shin-Han Tseng
    • Sheng-Hsien Chiu
  • Mechanochemically controlled polymerization is rare in polymer chemistry. Now, it has been shown that mechanical force can initiate and control the polymerization of an acrylate monomer. Piezochemical reduction of a copper(II) precursor using mechanical agitation of piezoelectric nanoparticles generates the polymerization activator required for controlled radical polymerization.

    • Hemakesh Mohapatra
    • Maya Kleiman
    • Aaron Palmer Esser-Kahn
  • Chiral, saturated N-heterocycles are prized as pharmaceutical agents and chiral auxiliaries, but are challenging to access without using prefunctionalized starting materials. Now, chiral phosphoric acids are found to enable the enantioselective Pd(II)-catalysed arylation of α-methylene C–H bonds in a wide variety of amines using thioamide as the directing group.

    • Pankaj Jain
    • Pritha Verma
    • Jin-Quan Yu
  • Reversibly inducing solid-to-liquid transitions of polymers at room temperature represents a challenge for enhanced processability and applications of polymers. Now, three azopolymers have been shown to exhibit photoswitchable glass transition temperatures, resulting in reversible solid-to-liquid transitions. Light exposure can heal cracks in hard azopolymers, reduce surface roughness of azopolymer films and control azopolymer adhesion.

    • Hongwei Zhou
    • Changguo Xue
    • Si Wu
  • STM investigations and first principles calculations provide an understanding of the microscopic mechanism behind the mobility of N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs) on gold surfaces. Now, it is shown that a ballbot-type motion allows the formation of self-assembled monolayers due to the NHC extracting a gold atom from the surface, leading to a ligated gold adatom.

    • Gaoqiang Wang
    • Andreas Rühling
    • Harald Fuchs
  • A protein-only redox film inspired by the architecture of bacterial electroactive biofilms has been developed. The film is formed using a rubredoxin–prion domain chimeric protein. The prion domains self-assemble into fibres that are decorated with rubredoxin. This results in highly organized films, able to transport electrons over several microns, and wire enzymes to electrodes.

    • Lucie Altamura
    • Christophe Horvath
    • Vincent Forge
  • The controlled mechanical activation of specific covalent bonds is a rapidly expanding field in chemistry. Now, it is shown that disulfide bond reduction proceeds through different mechanisms depending on the external force applied. This strongly suggests that refined models should be used when interpreting mechanochemical experiments, particularly when sonication is involved.

    • Przemyslaw Dopieralski
    • Jordi Ribas–Arino
    • Dominik Marx
  • Achieving sequence control in a synthetic polymer is more challenging and time consuming than it is for biopolymers. Now, it has been shown that the synthesis of sequence-controlled multiblock copolymers can be carried out via emulsion polymerization. This approach is environmentally friendly and yields complex multiblock materials with low dispersity and high yields.

    • Nikolaos G. Engelis
    • Athina Anastasaki
    • David M. Haddleton
  • Methods for preparing enantiomerically enriched products are often dependent on the structure of a catalyst. Here, it is shown that a self-amplifying catalyst is able to ‘sense’ the chirality of the catalytic product and induce enantioselectivity. Flexible ligand and product interaction sites are key to the increasing enantioselectivity over the course of the reaction.

    • Golo Storch
    • Oliver Trapp
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In Your Element

  • From grand challenges of nineteenth century chemistry to powerful technology in small packages, Brett F. Thornton and Shawn C. Burdette explain why neodymium is the twin element discovered twice by two Carls.

    • Brett F. Thornton
    • Shawn C. Burdette
    In Your Element
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