American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
The Mystery Molecule Page: 2007

DECEMBER

This molecule, a basic building block in nature, is linked together to form the major component of the resin in frankincense and myrrh, not to mention mistletoe! Can you guess what it is?

Isoprene
This hydrocarbon is linked together to form a class of compounds called terpenes, produced primarily by plants. Modifications produce a variety of aromas and fragrances, highly prized in ancient times but now often created synthetically in the laboratory. We hope your holiday season was “real”.

 

NOVEMBER

This molecule helps visualize results of many molecular genetics procedures. Can you guess what it is? 

 

 


Ethidium Bromide
This aromatic compound inserts itself into the hydrophobic space between the base pairs of DNA. After electrophoresis, examination of the agarose gels under ultraviolet light reveals the presence of the DNA thanks to ethidium bromide’s bright fluorescence. Because it may be a carcinogen, alternative dyes have been introduced but ethidium bromide is still widely used in molecular chemistry labs.

 

OCTOBER

This molecule was recently approved by the FDA and takes a new approach to therapy of HIV infection by preventing further T cell infection, rather than by inhibiting viral replication.  Can you guess what it is?

 

Maraviroc (Selzentry)
This drug, developed by Pfizer, blocks the activity of a chemokine receptor called CCR5 on the surface of T cells. It has been known for some time that people with mutations in this chemokine receptor have immunity to HIV infection. Trials of the new receptor antagonist have shown that the drug inhibits further T cell infection
.

 

 SEPTEMBER

This molecule looms as a major factor in global warming, potentially more damaging than carbon dioxide. Can you guess what it is?

 

 

Methane Hydrate
This is called a "clathrate" because the gas molecule (methane) in encased in a cage of water molecules. Methane is believed to be more damaging to the ozone layer than carbon dioxide. Currently, a major source of methane production is industrial cattle breeding but huge amounts of methane hydrate are trapped in permafrost and could be released as this frozen soil thaws. On the other hand, if this methane could be harvested, it could be a major new source of energy.

 

AUGUST

This molecule protects us but may also hurt us, especially on a hot August afternoon.  Can you guess what it is?

 

Ozone
Triatomic oxygen in the upper atmosphere (the "ozone layer") is a major part of the earth's defense against damaging ultraviolet radiation. It is also produced on the earth's surface when light reacts with hydrocarbons ("smog") and is considered a pollutant. We hope your summer was a happy one, with some time spent in the great outdoors (and wearing sunblock)!

 

JULY 

This performance-enhancing substance will be discussed by Dr. Larry Bowers during one of the plenary sessions at this year's AACC meeting.  Can you guess what it is?

Growth Hormone
Perfomance-enhancing substances that can not easily be detected are especially popular among athletes who desire to subvert the testing programs in place. Growth hormone increases muscle mass (and reduces fat) and is difficult to detect because it is identical to one of the naturally occurring isoforms. Recently, immunoassays that may be able to detect recombinant growth hormone have been developed (and were utilized during the recent Olympic Games in Athens).

 

JUNE

This widely-used diabetes drug was recently suspected of increasing risk of heart disease. Can you guess what it is?

 

Rosiglitazone
This drug is one of several types of oral hypoglycemics used to treat diabetes. Thiazolidinediones are non-secretagogues (they don't stimulate insulin production by islet cells) that lower glucose by enhancing insulin action in the periphery. Although controversial, the recent findings may cause patients to stop taking the drug.

MAY 

This molecule is supposed to be in Spot's dish but not in Spot's food. Can you guess what it is?

 

 

Melamine
Polymers of melamine are used in the manufacture of many plastics (including pet food dishes) but this nitrogen-rich substance has apparently been added to food products to falsely raise the level of "protein". Although the details are still unknown, its presence in pet food is strongly believed to be linked to the rash of unexplained illness in many dogs and cats recently.

 

APRIL 

This molecule will be at the heart of Dr. Warnick's talk at the April Northern California section meeting (April 19). Can you guess what it is?

 

 

 

Cholesterol

Dr. Warnick discussed the "bad" cholesterol (LDL) and the "good" cholesterol (HDL) and described how sub-fractionation may help identify patients at increased risk of cardiovascular disease despite "normal" levels of both.

MARCH 

This molecule is the active ingredient in green tea. Can you guess what it is?

 

 

 

Epigallocatechin-3-gallate
Green tea has a number of health-promoting ingredients but a lot of research has focused on a group of compounds called polyphenols, especially this one. No one knows exactly how they work but they are anti-oxidants that promote normal healing, inhibit the growth of tumor cells (but not normal cells) and may even reduce progression of Alzheimer's disease. Go Green!

FEBRUARY

Pfizer had to abandon this molecule recently because of increased morbidity and mortality in clinical trials. Can you guess what it is?

 


 

 

 

Torcetrapib
This compound has been found to raise levels of HDL cholesterol. Combining it with a statin (which lowers LDL cholesterol) would be a great boon to management of lipid disorders. Unfortunately, an independent safety board monitoring a clinical trial of over 15,000 patients recently found that almost twice as many patients taking torcetrapib plus statin had died, compared to statin alone. This news prompted Pfizer to withdraw the drug.

JANUARY

In a controversial move, New York City officials just voted to ban this molecule from restaurants. Can you guess what it is?

 

Trans-fatty acid ("trans-fat")
The cartoon represents a long-chain fatty acid with a double-bond in which the two hydrogen atoms are on opposite sides. Most unsaturated fatty acids (such as those found in vegetable oil) have the carbons on the same (or "cis-") side. Trans-fatty acids are created when vegetable oil is hydrogenated (in order to reduce the number of double-bonds and give the fat a longer shelf-life). There is considerable evidence that trans-fatty acids promote cardiovascular disease (perhaps by lowering HDL levels).