Chemical Abstracts Service’s 70 Millionth Substance
Jan21

Chemical Abstracts Service’s 70 Millionth Substance

Back in September, I posted here on Newscripts about a contest being hosted by Chemical Abstracts Service, a division of the American Chemical Society that collects and organizes publicly disclosed information about chemical compounds. CAS asked participants to guess when the 70 millionth substance would be added to its database. The person who submitted the answer (date and time) closest to reality would take home an e-book reader. Well, I’m a bit behind in reporting the outcome. But better late than never, right? The 70 millionth compound was added to CAS’s Registry on Dec. 6, 2012. The winner? Lucky grad student Tom Pearson of Nottingham Trent University, in England. An organic chemist, Pearson is developing new ways of sticking sugar units together with an eye toward drug synthesis. And he received a Kindle Fire for his correct prediction. Pearson doesn’t normally enter contests, so this is the first time he’s won anything, he tells me. “I had 10 minutes free in my day and thought I’d enter,” he says of the contest. But Pearson’s win wasn’t complete luck. Like every true science nerd, he used some math and logic to arrive at his winning entry: “I basically just stared at the counter for a couple of minutes and tried to work out the average rate at which substances were being added. After working out the rate, I then determined the date that the 70 millionth substance would be added.”   CAS added the 50 millionth substance to its registry back on Sept. 7, 2009. On the basis of these dates, and doing a little math of my own, I estimate that CAS adds about 16,900 new chemical substances to its database per day. That’s about 1 new compound every 5 seconds. Yowza!! The 70 millionth substance, given CAS Registry number 1411769-41-9, is a pyrazolyl piperazine disclosed in a patent filed with the Korean Intellectual Property Office. It’s a calcium-ion channel blocker with potential applications in treating pain, as well as conditions such as dementia.   A few fun facts from CAS about its registry: In 2012, 63% of patents covered by CAS originated in Asia. More than 70% of new substances added to the registry from the literature come from...

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Amusing News Aliquots
Jun28

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week's science news, compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf. First it beats you at rock, paper, scissors, then it takes over the world. Robot can read a person “like a dumb, fleshy book” and win every time. [iO9] If the bar scene and online dating aren’t helping you find the love of your life, this article suggests submitting a stinky T-shirt to a pheromone party. [USA Today] To fund colonization of Mars, Dutch firm suggests it will stage a “Big Brother”-like reality show following the first astronauts it sends there. Earth rejoices at opportunity to offload entire lot of Kardashians. [Space.com] What do Michael Jackson, Hedy Lamar, and the comedian Gallagher all have in common? Patents on file with the USPTO. [Wired] Presented without comment: Men’s far infrared magnetic underwear. [Annals of Improbable Research] This story gives new meaning to never taking candy from a stranger: peppermint lozenges accidently filled with arsenic in the 1800s. [iO9]...

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“Dr. NakaMats” Film A Quirky, Heartwarming Ride
Jul01

“Dr. NakaMats” Film A Quirky, Heartwarming Ride

Last Saturday, C&EN colleague Carmen Drahl and I headed to the American Film Institute’s SilverDocs festival just outside Washington, D.C. During our day at the film fest, which ran June 21–27, we screened a quirky, highly entertaining documentary about science, the art of invention, and how to pick out a new camera by smelling it. Yes, “The Invention of Dr. NakaMats” has everything Newscripts readers love, including a scene about the Ig Nobel Prizes. You see, Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu, the subject of the film, earned the Ig Nobel Prize for Nutrition in 2005 because he photographed every meal he had eaten for 34 years and studied the effects of the food on his health. Although Dr. NakaMats comes off as a kooky piece of work—a Willy Wonka who deals in patents rather than chocolate—the Japanese inventor is in fact responsible for the technology behind an impressive number of gadgets. You might have heard of the floppy disk, the CD, and (of course) the karaoke machine. Against the brightly lit backdrop of Tokyo, filmmaker Kaspar Astrup Schröder has painted a vibrant cinematic portrait of the inventor, a man just slightly full of himself. And why shouldn’t he be? He holds more patents than anyone else in the world: 3,357 at the time the documentary was shot, compared with Thomas Edison’s paltry 1,093. This is a fact NakaMats makes sure to point out as he stands on Dr. NakaMats Street in front of Dr. NakaMats’ house, framed by a floppy-disk-shaped gate. But NakaMats, who has acquired a cultlike following in Japan, is just as endearing as he is egotistical. We see him proudly present invention after wacky invention to the camera, saying of his motivation, “I do it out of love.” Clearly, a lot of the inventions Schröder presents in the film get played for laughs. And they are indeed hilarious: a notebook that works underwater, springy PyonPyon jogging shoes, and a new bra called B Bust, just to name a few. What else can you say about a man who, as a response to Japan’s declining birthrate and aging population, invents an aphrodisiac for women that he names Love Jet? NakaMats’ most ambitious goal is to live a long life—record-settingly long. He’s about to turn 80 as the film opens (he is now 82), but he considers himself to be in the prime of his life. His goal age? 144 years old. When NakaMats outlines his philosophy on how to attain that goal to a 91-year-old visitor, we learn that he combines rigorous caloric restriction (just one meal a day) with his own special supplement, a patented (of course) blend of...

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Duke Study Says Gene Patents Harm Innovation
Apr14

Duke Study Says Gene Patents Harm Innovation

Just weeks after a surprise court ruling fed into the ongoing debate over the merits and dangers of patenting genes, a study by the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy says the practice of patenting genes does more harm than good. The patents primarily served to block competition in the gene testing market, rather than encourage companies to develop new products. Duke IGSP based its findings, published this week in Genetics in Medicine, on a series of case studies looking at genetic risk testing for ten diseases, ranging from breast cancer to cystic fibrosis to hearing loss. The studies were conducted at the behest of the US Secretary of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health, and Society. The problem, said Duke IGSP, was not gene patenting itself, but the practice of giving a single entity the exclusive license on a broad patent. The majority of gene patents were originally held by universities or other non-profits, and licensing practices have varied by institution. The study comes out just weeks after a federal judge struck down patents owned by Myriad Genetics covering two genes—BRCA1 and BRCA2--associated with breast cancer. Myriad licensed the genes from University of Utah, and has since built a healthy business around selling BRACAnalysis, a $3,120 test that predicts breast and ovarian cancer risk. As we explained at the time of the ruling, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Robert W. Sweet said the patents were invalid because the genes were a product of nature rather than an invention. Myriad argued that plucking out the genes relevant to predicting cancer was a transformative process and therefore made the genes patentable. The company is expected to appeal, meaning Myriad's test sales will likely be safe while the case winds through the court. But the case  and Myriad's relative monopoly on BRCA analysis underscores the competition concerns highlighted in the Duke study. The Duke researchers point out the benefits of spreading the patent love:  in the case of cystic fibrosis, there is a booming market for tests to pinpoint carriers of the disease-causing gene, for which the patent was never exclusively licensed to a single company. So, to patent or not to patent? They’re already out there, but should they be valid? As more companies study the multiple genetic factors associated with diseases, will these types of broad patents held by individuals keep important tests off the...

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