Sunday, June 28, 2009

Metal carbonyls

Remember the nitro group? Let us consider even ‘simpler’ case of carbon monoxide. Almost invariably, the chemical databases represent CO as a charge-separated molecule (a) even though it would be as correct to draw it with triple bond and two lone pairs (b). I guess the reason to chose the representation (a) is that the software used for drawing/validating concerns itself with electron accountancy of separate atoms rather than whole molecule.

carbon monoxide with charge separation
carbon monoxide with two lone pairs

What about metal carbonyls? For instance, hexacarbonylvanadium, drawn with charge separation (c), looks really ugly. On the other hand, the software (e.g. ChemSketch) objects to the representation (d) (which, apparently, is preferred; cf. tetracarbonylnickel on p. 408 of IUPAC Recommendations) because it ‘wants’ the positive charge on triple-bonded oxygen.

hexacarbonylvanadium with charge separation
hexacarbonylvanadium without charge separation

Friday, June 19, 2009

The first viral P450

It’s true: the genome of Mimivirus is bigger than some bacterial genomes, but it is still a virus. Or is it?

When and where I was doing my master’s degree (and that was more than 20 years ago, at the Department of Biochemistry of Medico-Biological Faculty), we were jokingly defining life as “the mode of existence of cytochrome P450”. I’ve always thought that viruses are not alive; therefore, they don’t need P450s. Now, this paper describes the expression of a P450 gene from Mimivirus in E. coli. The CO complex of the expressed protein shows the characteristic absorption spectrum of ‘functional’ P450, but its biological function remains unknown.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


‘Calcium’ is the name given by Sir Humphry Davy to the metal that he first isolated by electrolysis in 1808. It is derived from Latin calx (lime) which most likely came from Greek χάλιξ (pebble, limestone). The English word ‘chalk’ is also derived from calx. My inner folk etymologist has successfully linked chalk with ‘calculation’ (via the blackboard, of course), but it seems that the connection is a bit older than blackboard: Latin calculus is simply a ‘little pebble’ used in calculations on an abacus. (Latin for chalk is not calx but creta, thus Cretaceous period.)

Not everything that starts with ‘calcium’ is a calcium compound. For instance, this chapter of Invitrogen’s Guide to Fluorescent Probes and Labeling Technologies contains a section on Calcium Green, Calcium Yellow, Calcium Orange and Calcium Crimson indicators. These compounds, upon binding Ca2+, exhibit a strong increase in fluorescence emission intensity. I suppose the corresponding fluorescent complexes then should be named something like ‘calcium Calcium Crimson’ and so on.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Wine metallomics

I suppose everybody who follows this blog is acquainted with the theory linking the lead posoning and decline of Roman Empire. But sure that was a long time ago? Bad news, everybody: the wine we drink now still has the metals we really needn’t. According to this paper,
The THQ <target hazard quotient> values were determined as ranges from previously reported ranges of metal ion concentrations and were frequently concerningly high. Apart from the wines selected from Italy, Brazil and Argentina, all other wines exhibited THQ values significantly greater than one indicating levels of risk. The levels of vanadium, copper and manganese had the highest impact on THQ measures. Typical potential maximum THQ values ranged from 50 to 200 with Hungarian and Slovakian wines reaching 300. THQ values for a sample of red and white wines were high for both having values ranging from 30 to 80 for females based on a 250 mL glass per day.
Well, I’ll stick to Italian (post-Roman) wine then.