In 1993, researchers discovered a chemical compound in a South Pacific sponge with promising anti-cancer, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. But there was a catch. The compound, called palau’amine — because it was found off the island of Palau — consists of a molecular framework with inner connections so contorted and bizarre that, heretofore, chemists thought they couldn’t possibly exist in nature. In addition, the compound is exceedingly fragile and falls apart if exposed to the wrong pH level.
Producing palau’amine in a laboratory became a scientific challenge that captivated chemists worldwide for nearly two decades. Now comes word that a team of scientists from The Scripps Research Institute has succeeded in the quest by inventing new techniques and reagents that allowed it to lay claim to the first synthetically produced palau’amine. The work will appear as the cover article of an upcoming edition of the international journal Angewandte Chemie. (News release https://bit.ly/50ifTa.)
Tracing HIV mutations
UCSD chemists and Harvard University statisticians have developed a novel way to trace mutations in HIV that lead to drug resistance. Their findings, once expanded to the full range of drugs available to treat the infection, would allow doctors to tailor drug cocktails to the particular strains of the virus found in individual patients.
HIV replicates quickly, but the copies are imprecise. The constant mutation has made HIV infection difficult to treat, much less cure, because drugs designed to interrupt the cycle of infection fail when the target changes.
To better understand which mutations matter for drug resistance, researchers compared HIV sequences from patients treated with specific drugs to those from untreated patients. Using a novel statistical method, they identified clusters of mutations that seemed to be working together to help the virus escape treatment. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (News release https://bit.ly/8VD
Major infectious disease study funded
The La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology will take aim at several of the world’s most dangerous infectious diseases — tuberculosis, malaria and dengue virus — in a set of research projects that total $18.8 million over five years.
The institute received four project awards from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to fund the study focused on identifying epitopes — pieces of a virus or microbe that cause the body’s immune system to launch an attack. For many of the major infections that lack an effective vaccine, the causative microbes are extremely complex and contain hundreds, or even thousands, of epitopes. Narrowing down the list of epitopes to key targets is required to develop new and more effective vaccines.
The study also includes a component on smallpox, a deadly, infectious disease eradicated worldwide that remains a focus because of bioterrorism concerns. (News release https://bit.ly/4ExD4G.)
Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.