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Dear Reader,

Well it is almost Christmas and I have some good news for my readers, I have just got tenure at Chalmers which is a nice Christmas present for me. The last year has been a very active year on this blog; we have had the Fukushima accident to think about together with our normal chemistry. I hold the view that Fukushima is a special accident as it is the first major nuclear accident of the internet age, it has attracted a lot of attention which has results in a lot of good stuff and some total rubbish being written about the event.

While this blog has attracted some attention we can not rest on our laurels, we need to continue to develop ourselves and struggle to improve ourselves.

The RSC (Royal Society of Chemistry) is right when it states that a professional person needs to continue to undergo professional development. The RSC has a wonderful phrase for this lifelong education which its members should take part in. The phrase is continuing professional development (CPD). One of my CPD goals is to improve my Swedish.

We have also seen the occupy movement appear on the political stage, while I do understand that many people disagree with the way the world is run. The occupy movement has a deep and fatal flaw; it has no clear purpose or leader. Without a clear purpose, a list of demands and a person who acts as a spokesman it is impossible for anyone outside the movement to negotiate with them.

On the other hand some of the responses to the occupy movement have been clearly unreasonable, I was displeased to see a photo of a black shirted policeman spraying pepper spray at the faces of protestors who were sitting on the ground. If the policeman had been spraying some thug who was trying to assault him with a club, a fist or even a rubber chicken then I would have dismissed the matter instantly. While I view pepper spray as a reasonable method of subduing a violent assailant, the use of pepper spray on someone whose behaviour merely irks, annoys or irritants you is deeply wrong.

To my eyes the photo looks like a perfect fundraising poster for either liberty or the ACLU. Maybe I will write something about the neurotoxin used in both pepper spray and in hot cooking.

I say that for many people the most important struggle in their lives is against their own worst characteristics and to improve themselves. While ignorance may be bliss in the form of a soft fuzzy world where someone tells you what to think, I think that to stay in such a state would be a sad way to stay. I think that people should empower themselves, one of the steps by which you can do this is to learn about the things going on in your community or the things on the news which trouble or concern you.

But lets get back to chemistry.

While drinking Christmas glogg and eating Christmas snacks I started to talk with some of my co-workers about some of the chemicals which are in our food. I noted that the Italians tried to ban the Swedish pepperkaka because of its high cinnamon content. This attempt to ban a food which I have an intense liking of made me sad and also made me think “why”. Cinnamon contains an aldehyde called trans cinnamaldehyde.

One good thing about trans cinnamaldehyde is that it has passed the Ames test with flying colours according to the following paper. Stammati, A.; Bonsi, P.; Zucco, F.; Moezelaar, R.; Alakomi, H.-L.; Wright, A. von, Food and Chemical Toxicology, 1999, 37(8), 813-824.

The Ames test is a good test for predicting if a chemical is a carcinogen; it uses a special strain of salmonella which has a metabolic defect caused by a single mutation away from a “normal” version of salmonella. While passing the Ames test does not mean a chemical is harmless it does however suggest that it is unlikely to be a carcinogen. In the same paper using a different DNA damage test (SOS chromotest using Escherichia coli PQ37) it was shown not to cause DNA damage.

But it also can contain a heterocyclic compound named coumarin, in an Italian paper it was claimed that cinnamon marketed in Italycontains harmful levels of this heterocycle. For the paper see S. Lungarini, F. Aureli and E. Coni, Food Additives and Contaminants, 2008, 25(11), 1297-1305. This paper claims that cheaper version of cinnamon is being marketed in Europe and that the coumarin in this can damage the liver and kidneys in rats, mice and maybe humans. But J.H. Fentem and J.R. Fry, Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part C: Comparative Pharmacology, 1993, 104(1), 1 to 8 states that a strong difference exists between rats and humans.

Here are some pictures of coumarin showing the arrangement of the atoms.

View of coumarin showing the two rings

Side view of coumarin showing that the rings are flat

Fentem and Fry state that in rats the coumarin is converted via the epoxide into one group of compounds while in strains of mice which are very similar to humans the compound is converted into different (and less toxic) compounds.

It has also been shown that coumarin has in rats a protecting effect against liver damage caused by carbon tetrachloride, in M. Atmaca, H.M. Bilgin, B.D. Obay, H. Diken and M. Kelle, Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry, 2011, 67(4), 569-576.

It also made me think of a fun assignment which I wrote some time ago, I hold the view that chemistry should be done in a sober manner but not in a somber manner. While teaching chemistry while drunk (or otherwise intoxicated) or worse still trying to do a chemical experiment in this state is deeply wrong I think it is deeply sad when students (or teachers) teach or learn chemistry in a sad and miserable way. I hope to post this assignment on this blog for you to read. This should give you something to do when you have finsihed your christmas dinners.


One Response

  1. Congratulations on getting tenure!

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