Everyone loves a list. (Don’t they?) Well, as we’re approaching the end of the year and some of us are well into the panto and party season already, I thought it would be a good idea to run down a hit parade of this year’s molecules. So, here’s the Sciencebase Top Ten Molecules of 2007:
- 10 – Graphene – chicken wire carbon sheets hit the headlines this year and will continue to do so as researchers learn more about this unique material’s optical and electrical properties. One day, carbon may even replace silicon as the elemental of choice in computing.
- 9 – Helium – at the time of writing physicists in Canada had taken an important step towards understanding supersolidity in helium, stretching it a bit to include this in a list of molecules. This new state of matter forms at very low temperature and under extreme pressure and now it has been found that cooling makes supersolid helium even stiffer.
- 8 – DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid, and more specifically, the deoxyribonucleic acid that resides in every cell of genomics pioneer Craig Venter. The J Craig Venter Institute claims that this “Independent sequence and assembly of the six billion base pairs from the genome of one person ushers in the era of individualized genome-based medicine”.
- 7 – Water – Good old H2O continues to confound those scientists hoping to explain its anomalous properties, as supplies of the fresh stuff will dwindle as the century moves on, it’s heartening to know that close to absolute zero, water exists in yet another phase.
- 6 – Ethanol – a seasonal favourite, of course, the active ingredient in so many beverages. As with a certain other molecule in this Top Ten, this year there has been a lot of hot breath resulting from various and conflicting health studies on the effects of ethanol on human health, expectant mothers and their unborn children, and others. So…raise your glasses to ethanol!
- 5 – Rotaxane – 140 years ago, Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell devised a thought experiment that might help scientists break the law. An entirely legal, molecular version of Maxwell’s Demon made its debut this year, thanks to chemists at Edinburgh University.
- 4 – Azadirachtin – After decades of trying and countless post-doc and grad students have come and gone Steve Ley at Cambridge University finally published a total synthesis for the natural insecticide azadirachtin.
- 3 – Epothilone – could the anticancer drugs produced by soil microbes finally have come of age with the announcement from pharma giant Bristol Myers Squibb that it has obtained approval in the US for semi-synthetic analogue of epothilone B against drug-resistant metastatic breast cancer.
- 2 – Carbon dioxide – this year, there has been more hot air produced around this greenhouse gas and climate change than I care to cite.
- 1 – Hydrogen sulfide – yet another small molecule with a big impact. Scientists recently discovered that H2S could be the key to longevity, at least if you’re a nematode worm. A study published in PNAS in December demonstrated that the “rotten egg” molecule increases heat tolerance and lifespan in the molecular biologist’s favourite, Caenorhabditis elegans
Well, those are my choices, I deliberately avoided looking at Science to see what they’d come up with for their Molecule of the Year, before I put this post together. If anyone has their own Top Ten or even just a Number 1 let me know.