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October 12, 2009
Volume 87, Number 41
pp. 4-7

October 12, 2009 Letters

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Surprise And Closeness

I always look forward to scanning the Science & Technology Concentrates as part of an effort to keep abreast of recent developments, so I was not completely surprised by the item from a CalTech group titled "Surprise Methyl C–H Activation in DMF" (C&EN, June 15, page 26).

The concluding statement, "The fact that methyl C–H activation can compete at all with activation of the much more reactive aldehydic C–H bond is unexpected and intriguing," is fundamentally correct, while the relevant publication (Organometallics 2009, 28, 4229) states, "To our knowledge there have been no reports of C–H activation of a methyl group of DMF or any closely related species" (my italics). The research involves an Ir species, and DMF is HC(O)NMe2.

However, there is earlier evidence that in the related (how close?) amide species RC(O)NMe2 (R = Me and 4-cyclopentyl), such activation can occur. John M. Brown's group reported NMR data that revealed chelation (also to an Ir center) of the cyclopentyl amide via the carbonyl O-atom and the CH2 formed from one of the Me groups (J. Chem. Soc. Chem. Commun. 1987, 1278), whereas my group invoked such activation to explain formation of the hydroperoxide product, MeC(O)N(Me)CH2OOH, from a Rh-catalyzed hydrogen peroxide oxidation of dimethylacetamide (R = Me) (J. Chem. Soc. Chem. Commun. 1989, 1624).

I consider these earlier studies to involve "related" species, but "close" is impossible to define!

Brian R. James
Vancouver, British Columbia

Achieving Renewable Energy

I suppose that by now one should be resigned to seeing ideology triumph over sound science and technology in federal policy. Rarely, however, has there been as extreme or dangerous an example as that provided by the passage of the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill less than two weeks after the June 15 release of the National Research Council (NRC) report on electricity generation from renewable energy sources (C&EN, June 29, page 25).

Waxman-Markey mandates 6% renewable electricity generation by 2012 and 20% by 2020; President Obama wanted even more extreme mandates (10% by 2012, 25% by 2025). In striking contrast, the NRC report indicates that 10% and 20% might be achievable by 2020 and 2035, respectively, and even this was based upon assuming "an aggressive but achievable scenario." The renewable deployment rate NRC considered achievable is less than half of what Obama and Congress seek to achieve by the waving of a legislative magic wand.

The NRC report also indicates that going beyond 20% would require major scientific advances and a "fundamentally different electricity system," in part to cope with the vagaries of wind and solar power, the availability of which are both intermittent and unpredictable.

Left unanswered is the question, Why bother, when we already have an energy source that emits no greenhouse gases, generates almost 20% of our electric power, and can be expanded without a major reworking of our entire electric power infrastructure? I refer, of course, to nuclear power.

France obtains almost 80% of its electricity from nuclear, and only politics and ideology prevent comparable advances here. Of course, our electricity needs are much greater than those of France, but the resources available to meet these needs are also comparably greater. Memo to Obama and Congress: If France can do it, "Yes, We Can!"

David C. Williams
Albuquerque, N.M.

Francis Collins At NIH

In the C&EN article on the very obvious, sensible nomination of Francis Collins to head the National Institutes of Health, I was utterly astounded to find the reporter's statement that "some observers note that Collins' well-known religious beliefs might make some uneasy" (C&EN, July 13, page 5). Well, now! Or should I say, "Whad'ya know!" In the USA? The land of the free, and so on?

Could that be more than a teeny bit of a public antireligious profiling creeping in there? Having paired with Collins in a PBS documentary on Freud and C. S. Lewis (it never aired), and having read some of Collins' writings, I wonder what this comment says about the U.S. scientific community—or at least "some observers" therein.

Collins is obviously a highest rank scientist who also happens to be a Christian. A good start might be for the "observers" to drop the cloak of anonymity and let the public examine their religious practices. Scientists often do not even differentiate between religion (which is about behavior, what you do, orthopraxy) and theology (which is your theory, what you "believe," orthodoxy). Then perhaps we could compare what the observers do with their money, service to the poor, loving neighbors, and even enemies with what any appointee does.

Reporters might then be a little better armed on the subject to ask tougher questions. Collins obviously doesn't need my support; it is the community of reductionist scientism-fundamentalists who clearly need to be challenged along with all other religious-fundamentalists who claim a direct line to the supreme being, or supreme nonbeing. The latter may be the problem of the anonymous observers.

Rustum Roy
University Park, Pa.

If the laboratory in the background of your picture of Collins is his, he needs to get organized before heading a $30 billion research agency.

George A. Cypher
La Jolla, Calif.

Deuterated Drugs Redux

The article on deuterated drugs prompts me to resurrect for your readers an obscure but important result using the deuterium isotope effect to overcome insect resistance to DDT. In 1963, M. K. K. Pillai and A. W. A. Brown reported that DDT, deuterated at C-2, was very effective against mosquito species that were resistant to 2-H-DDT. In fact, 2-D-DDT was a very potent insecticide, and the paper describes the inability of mosquito species to develop resistance.

This experiment was based on the concept, put forward by the late D. J. Hennessy of Fordham University, that resistant species had developed a dehydrochlorinase that converted DDT to nontoxic DDE, whereas the deuterium isotope effect would slow down the process enough for the active insecticide to have its desired effect. Hennessy published a synthesis paper (J. Agric. Food Chem. 1963, 11, 47), while Pillai and Brown published their data in the Proceedings of the New Jersey Mosquito Extermination Association (1963, page 235). This work took place during the Rachel Carson/"Silent Spring" era when the idea that DDT was a bad thing took over. So, this "proof of concept" never led to a large-scale practical application.

Richard W. Franck
New York City

Microbes Among Us

Sarah Everts' article, "Extended Family" (C&EN, July 20, page 43), concerning the trillions of microbes in our bodies is most exciting for the potential that it raises. The likelihood that good bacteria in our bodies are protecting us from some illnesses suggests that the pharmaceutical companies may produce "probiotic" pills in the future that will combat specific diseases. They may even design new bacteria for these purposes. An exciting new field of nutrition may be what we eat and when in order to benefit specific bacteria that are useful to us, while avoiding things that encourage the growth of harmful bacteria.

Giles F. Carter
Clemson, S.C.

"Extended Family" ignored the seminal research by a relatively small group of microbiologists who surveyed the playing field and identified the players for the geneticists. Between 1963 and 1984, about 99% of the bacteria of the intestinal tract were identified, counted, and characterized. Those were exciting times. Hundreds of papers were published, three international societies and several national societies formed, and two new journals begun.

For each species in the gastrointestinal tract, we learned the identity, cytology, metabolic activities, and numbers of microbes per gram of fluid; the interplay between bacteria and protozoa; the interactions between microbe and microvillus; the good and the harm expected from each subspecies; the effects of antibiotics and probiotics; and how to control the balance of species for good health. A summary of this work was edited by my coworker, David J. Hentges ("Human Intestinal Microflora in Health and Disease," Academic Press, 1983).

Associate Dean Herb Goldberg, a microbiologist at the Medical School of the University of Missouri, Columbia, deserves much credit for sponsoring seven biannual international symposia on intestinal microbiology. My involvement began with my book, "Germfree Life and Gnotobiology" (Academic Press, 1963) and continued with my organizing the seven symposia and coediting those volumes.

In 1984, I was knighted at Greiffensteine Castle in central Germany for "world leadership in microecology."

Thomas Don Luckey
Lawrence, Kan.

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