Creators of molecule-building precision tools win Chemistry Nobel

Combo image of the winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Benjamin List (left) and David W.C. MacMillan. (AFP/AP)
Combo image of the winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Benjamin List (left) and David W.C. MacMillan. (AFP/AP)
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Updated 07 October 2021

Creators of molecule-building precision tools win Chemistry Nobel

Creators of molecule-building precision tools win Chemistry Nobel
  • David MacMillan and Benjamin List win Chemistry Nobel
  • They created new tools for building molecules, helping make new drugs

STOCKHOLM, Sweden: German Benjamin List and Scottish-born David MacMillan won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for developing new tools for building molecules that have helped make new drugs and are more environmentally friendly.
Their work on asymmetric organocatalysis, which the award-giving body described as “a new and ingenious tool for molecule building,” has also helped in the development of plastics, perfumes and flavours.
“Organic catalysts can be used to drive multitudes of chemical reactions,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. “Using these reactions, researchers can now more efficiently construct anything from new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells.”
Catalysts are molecules that remain stable while enabling or speeding up chemical reactions performed in labs or large industrial reactors. Before the laureates’ breakthrough findings at the turn of the millennium, only certain metals and complex enzymes were known to do the trick.

The academy said the new generation of small-molecule catalysts were more friendly for the environment and cheaper to produce, and praised the precision of the new tools.
Before asymmetric catalysis, man-made catalyzed substances would often contain not only the desired molecule but also its unwanted mirror image. The sedative thalidomide, which caused deformities in human embryos around six decades ago, was a catastrophic example, it said.
“The fact is, it is estimated that 35 percent of the world’s total GDP in some way involves chemical catalysis,” it added.
List, 53, said the academy caught up with him while on vacation in Amsterdam with his wife, who in the past had liked to joke that somebody might be calling him from Sweden.
“But today we didn’t even make the joke and certainly didn’t anticipate this — and then Sweden appears on my phone... it was a very special moment that I will never forget,” he said, dialling into the media briefing announcing the winners.
List, 53, is director of the Max-Planck-Institut fuer Kohlenforschung, Muelheim an der Ruhr, Germany.

He said he did not initially know that MacMillan was working on the same subject and figured his hunch might just be a “stupid idea” until it worked.
He and MacMillan share the prestigious 10-million Swedish crown ($1.14-million) prize in equal parts for breakthroughs achieved independently of one another.
MacMillan, 53, who said he was only the second person in his western Scotland working class family to go to college, noted that it was often challenging for chemists to explain the significance of their work to the outside world.
“But the one thing I will say is that everything we do, or what a chemist does, impacts everything that’s around us all the time,” he told a briefing at Princeton University, where he is a professor.
The impact of his students’ work can be almost immediate, said MacMillan, who has dual US and UK citizenship.
“They are literally doing experiments on a Tuesday, they discover something — we have discussions with major pharmaceutical companies all the time and they learn about what we are doing — and they literally employ it on a Friday,” he said.
Reflecting on the Nobel Prize, he said: “It’s one of those weird moments in life when you have to sit about and think about all the people who got you here, and (it) makes you very sentimental.”
Some scientists had suggested the rapid development of mRNA (Messenger ribonucleic acid) COVID-19 vaccines would be recognized this year, also possibly in the medicine category, which was awarded for discoveries on the sense of touch.
“This is an extremely important topic we’re thinking about, but there will be more years, more Nobel prizes,” said Pernilla Wittung Stafshede of the Swedish Academy of Sciences.
The prizes, for achievements in science, literature and peace, were created and funded in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel. They have been awarded since 1901, with the economics prize first handed out in 1969.


Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful

Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful
Updated 19 sec ago

Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful

Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful
  • Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles
MOSCOW: Russia said Monday it had carried out another successful test of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, as world powers race to develop the advanced weaponry.
Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles — defined as reaching speeds of at least Mach 5.
As part of “the completion of tests” of Russia’s hypersonic missile weapons, the Admiral Gorshkov warship launched a Zircon missile at a target in the Barents Sea at a range of 400 kilometers, the defense ministry said.
“The target was hit,” the ministry said, describing the test as successful.
The missile has undergone a number of recent tests, with Russia planning to equip both warships and submarines with the Zircon.
Putin revealed the development of the new weapon in a state of the nation address in February 2019, saying it could hit targets at sea and on land with a range of 1,000 kilometers and a speed of Mach 9.
Russia’s latest Zircon test came after Western reports that a Chinese hypersonic glider test flight in July culminated in the mid-flight firing of a missile at more than five times the speed of sound over the South China Sea.
Up until the test, none of the top powers had displayed comparable mastery of a mid-flight missile launch.
China denied the report, saying it was a routine test of a reusable space vehicle.
Russia has boasted of developing several weapons that circumvent existing defense systems, including the Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles.
Western experts have linked a deadly blast at a test site in northern Russia in 2019 — which caused a sharp spike in local radiation levels — to the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile.

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’
Updated 31 min 18 sec ago

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’
  • Pair left the hotel where travelers who tested positive for the virus were staying after arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from South Africa

AMSTERDAM: A couple caught trying to escape from COVID-19 quarantine in the Netherlands after testing positive for the coronavirus have been transferred to a hospital where they were being held in isolation, an official said on Monday.
The pair, a Spanish man and Portuguese woman, left the hotel where travelers who tested positive for the virus were staying after arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from South Africa.
“They have now been transferred to a hospital elsewhere in the Netherlands to ensure they are in isolation. They are now in so-called forced isolation,” said Petra Faber, spokesperson for Haarlemmermeer municipality, where Schiphol is located just outside of the capital.
“We don’t know who tested positive for the new variant and we wouldn’t say because of privacy,” Faber said.
The couple fled the hotel on Sunday and had boarded a plane to Spain when they were detained by military police at the airport, said Faber. They were among 61 out of the more than 600 passengers who arrived on two flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town on Friday and tested positive for COVID-19.
At least 13 of those infected have the newly identified omicron variant of the virus, Dutch health authorities said on Sunday.
Security at the hotel has in the meantime been increased to ensure the quarantined guests stay in their rooms. It is being guarded by regular police and military police.
The discovery of omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.
Dutch authorities are also seeking to contact and test some 5,000 other passengers who have traveled from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe.
In the Netherlands, tougher COVID-19 measures went into effect on Sunday to curb record daily infection rates of more than 20,000 and ease pressure on hospitals.


India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws

India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws
Updated 43 min 43 sec ago

India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws

India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws
  • Narendra Modi said this month his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament

NEW DELHI: India’s parliament on Monday passed a bill to repeal three laws aiming at deregulating agricultural markets, bowing to pressure from farmers who have protested for over a year to demand that the laws be rolled back.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration introduced the farm bills last year through an executive order, traditionally reserved for emergency legislation, triggering India’s longest-running farmers’ protest. Parliament then passed the legislation via a voice vote, drawing widespread criticism that it had rushed through the laws without proper debate.
In a bid to end the protests ahead of the state assembly election in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state early next year, Modi said this month his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament.
As parliament reconvened for its winter session on Monday, both the lower and upper houses passed the bill to withdraw the laws meant to deregulate and open up agricultural markets to companies. Farmers have said the laws would leave them with scant bargaining power against big private purchasers.
The controversial laws saw tens of thousands of people, including many elderly growers and women farmers, brave extreme weather and a severe second wave of coronavirus infections to camp out on the outskirts of New Delhi over the past year.
In addition to their repeal demand, protesting farmers are also asking that Modi’s administration introduce a law to secure government prices for produces beyond just rice and wheat.
The government currently buys rice and wheat at state-set Minimum Support Prices (MSPs), but the subsidies only benefit about 6 percent of India’s millions of farmers.
Protesters are demanding MSPs for all crops – a move that has galvanized growers across the country and taken the protest beyond India’s grain-growing states of Punjab and Haryana.
The government has not yet made any comment on the protesters’ demand for MSPs.
Farmers celebrated the development but said the protest would only be called off when the government promised legislation on MSPs for all produce.


Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia

Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia
Updated 29 November 2021

Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia

Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia
  • Greeks who chose to remain should limit their movements, stock up on food, water and fuel, and stay in contact with the Greek embassy in Addis Ababa
  • The US, Canada and other nations have also told their citizens to leave the country amid fears that Tigrayan rebels could march on the capital

ATHENS: Greece’s foreign ministry on Monday urged Greek nationals to leave Ethiopia, warning that conditions in the war-torn country were becoming “increasingly unpredictable.”
“It is recommended to Greek nationals living in Ethiopia that they leave the country on available commercial flights as soon as possible,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said safety conditions in Ethiopia were “particularly fragile.”
It said Greeks who chose to remain should limit their movements, stock up on food, water and fuel, and stay in contact with the Greek embassy in Addis Ababa and the ministry’s crisis management team.
The US, Canada and other nations have also told their citizens to leave the country amid fears that Tigrayan rebels could march on the capital.
The war erupted in November 2020 when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into the Tigray region to topple its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The civil war has left thousands dead and displaced more than two million people.


India steps ups COVID-19 testing for international flyers

India steps ups COVID-19 testing for international flyers
Updated 29 November 2021

India steps ups COVID-19 testing for international flyers

India steps ups COVID-19 testing for international flyers
  • The decision will be effective from Dec. 1 and comes after a man who recently returned from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already asked officials to review a decision to resume all scheduled international flights from Dec. 15

NEW DELHI: India will make on-arrival COVID-19 testing mandatory for flyers from more than a dozen countries, including South Africa and Britain where the Omicron variant has been detected, the health ministry said on Monday.
The decision will be effective from Dec. 1 and comes after a man who recently returned from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19, though it is not yet clear which strain of the coronavirus he contracted.
Further investigations are ongoing, an official said.
“The patient is currently under observation and is displaying mild symptoms,” Pradeep Awate, a senior health official in Maharashtra state where the man is isolating, told Reuters.
“Still, we are monitoring him out of abundant caution.”
The federal health ministry said all arrivals from Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel will be tested at the airport using the RT-PCR method.
Additionally, 5 percent of all travelers from other countries will be randomly tested, the ministry added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already asked officials to review a decision to resume all scheduled international flights from Dec. 15. Currently only special flights as per bilateral or other agreements are flying.
India reported 8,309 new coronavirus infections on Monday, taking the total to 34.58 million — only behind the tally of the United States. Deaths rose by 236 to 468,790, health ministry data showed.