Let's look at three different topics today and try to guess which are fact and which are fiction.
Ladderans are organic substances with a four-carbon cycle. If you have any idea about organic chemistry you probably just started to think hard as one of organic's chemistry core principles is that four-carbon cycles are quite unstable. And now consider the fact that these molecules have several of them right next to each other. And that's where the name comes from as they look similar to a ladder.
These substances were discovered in the Planctomycetes bacteria which are unique in several ways. For example, just like proper bacteria, they lack a nucleus yet their DNA can be separated into something similar to the nucleus. But we care about a different part of the bacteria called anammoxosom. Here anaerobic oxidation of ammonium takes place and creates molecular nitrogen.
During this process, a proton gradient is created which is later used for the synthesis of ATP similar to photosynthesis or cellular breathing. Sadly, the intermediate steps of this reaction are hydrazine and hydroxylamine - both of these substance very unstable and toxic. Hydrazine is even used a rocket fuel. Nothing you would like having wondering around in your cells. That is why the bacteria enclose the reaction with anammoxosome which has the ladderans in the membrane. They make up up to more than 50 % of this membrane.
Sweets from waste
The world has two problems. Well, apart from hundreds of worse problems. It is overrun with plastic and lacks in vanilla.
We live in the age of plastic and since plastics take a lot of time to decompose they tend to accumulate in nature where they decay into microplastics that damage the environment. Just a few days ago scientists published new that they detected microplastics in blood (source HERE ) Every single year humanity produces 50,000,000 tons of PET waste. While it is possible to recycle it sadly it leads to lesser quality products.
Vanilla is a spice we get from three different orchid species. Growing these orchids is quite hard and they can only be grown on tropical islands. This make vanilla the second most expensive spice after saphron. The main part of the vanilla aroma is vanilin which is widely used in the food industry, the cosmetic industry, or even as a part of cleaning products or herbicides. Every year we use more of it and in 2025 about 59,000 tons of vanilin is expected to be used.
Scientists thought to combine these two problems and make vanilin from PET bottles. To achieve this they used a known process for recycling PET and getting a monomer of tereftal acid. What they did newly is that created a metabolic pathway from a number of enzymes to turn the acid into vanilin and produced these enzymes in the well known E. coli bacteria.
Non-Existing African Paradox
During the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic individual states tried to show how well they are doing in various statistics. And while Covid was marching through Europe, America, and Asia it seemed to have missed Africa. The explanations for the African paradox were various - depending on what the person explaining wanted to prove - from not enough testing, through a young and healthy population, to having enough vitamin D.
In Zambia scientists performed a smear from the noses of dead people and tested the smear for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They got positive results in about one-third of smears but during the three major waves (July 2020, January 2021, and June 2021) the positivity rate reached up to 90 %. And only 10 % of the dead had a positive test even before death.
And while the positivity decreased with age of the dead even then almost one-fifth of the dead of age 19 or less were positive. Almost three-quarters of the dead had covid identified as the cause of death probably or at least possibly.
Ladderans do truly exist. Just the name is not real. The whole theme and this article was inspired by the blog In the pipeline where you can find more such unusual molecules found in nature.
Sweets from waste
This too is true. I was inspired by the podcast [Talking Biotech] which describes the whole process. In the past scientists produced many different substances in various organisms so you shouldn't be surprised that PET can be turned into vanilin.
Non-Existing African Paradox
Sadly, this news is true as well. The data comes from HERE
While Zambia with its 19,000,000 citizes claims to have suffered only 4,000 Covid related deaths the real numbers will probably be around 80,000.