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Artificial leaf produces first drugs using sunlight (newatlas.com)
111 points by signa11 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

> They’re made of translucent materials that allow sunlight in and direct it towards tiny microfluidic channels running through the material like veins. A certain liquid is flowing through these channels, and the idea is that the energy from the sunlight triggers a chemical reaction in that liquid, turning it into something useful like a drug or fuel.

What a crap article, could this be more vague? 'A certain liquid'?

Reminds me of that Elizabeth Holmes quote

>“A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel”

Sound like a perfect patent application, nice and broad, as all patents should be.

> A chemistry is performed

I would like to buy one art please.

The details are in the paper, the liquid is mostly one of the copper or iron dyes, which change conformation and provide electrons when lit with sun. There are ones for red spectrum, another for green and yet another for blue, depending on what you want to make. The other part is substrates for the catalyzed reaction.

They showed making an antimalarial drug among others, which is expensive now and hard to make in GMO due to toxicity.

Could you explain if something basic like tryptophan was used, could it be converted to DMT?

Or would it only be able to extract DMT from a liquid with the alkaloid already in it?

No idea, they used different substrates than DMT or tryptophan, managed to pull off morpholine arylation which is new, and the other reactions at much higher efficiency than previously achieved with solar activated reactions - trifluoromethylation, metalloredox and photooxidation were done too.

What they made that was medicinally useful was artemisinin, an antimalarial. In continuous photooxidation reaction.

Normal leaves can also produce drugs using sunlight.

True, but this way it avoids the GMO label. :)

I'm wondering about manufacturing costs, though.

> True, but this way it avoids the GMO label. :)

I think he's talking about marijuana leaves (THC) or tobacco leaves (nicotine), etc.

I think he's making a different point...

If you are manufacturing a vaccine in a tobacco plant, it really doesn’t matter if it is GMO. It’s not going to be food and it’s not going to have time to flower before harvest.

Is the leaf structure in anyway necessary for the chemical reactions or is it just a nice, familiar form that makes the project seem more natural than some array of microfluidic chambers?

From the article and video, looks like the requirements are a thin tube and a block of translucent material to focus light onto the tube. And presumably the tube needs to be the right length, to give it enough sun time to react at a given flow speed.

I would guess that while the leaf shape in particular is not required, the loose space-filling curve is a good shape for the tube to get the most use out of the block. Could it perhaps be slightly more space-efficient with a rectangle and a heater-coil shape? Maybe, but I'd expect not by much, and I would expect other resource constraints (the reactants) to matter before you've filled all available sunny spots and need to maximize medicine-per-square-meter, if only because sunny rooftops are not exactly high-demand space.

I saw the leaves, read the article, then thought the leaf structure was a mere contrivance that wasn't necessary and perhaps made scaling manufacturing actually a bit harder/expensive than simpler geometries (neither chem nor manufacturing are domains I claim to understand, so someone more knowledgeable may have real insights).

The change from silicone to rigid stuff also smacks of way better insect resilience in the field. (n.b. photochemistry to work under 3 bar as to keep plastic from creeping into leaky balloon form.)

This feels a lot more like a vaporware joke than a real product. And even if real, the GMO is hands down a better idea. I'm tired of everyone thinking having a trash planet is somehow okay.

The chemistry in this synthetic leaf is much simpler and more controllable than in any GMO. It's not a replacement.

Maybe so, but what is the process of recycling one? Are we going to have landfills full of synthetic leaves in 20 years?

I also grow traditional medicinal herbs in my farm.

I couldn’t help but wonder if at the end of the day, it’s really going come back to herbalism. After all, everything is ‘organic’.

I'd like to know more details on how this works, does anyone here have links to papers?

The paper is linked at the end of the article.


Oh, missed it thanks to mobile. Thank you.

Reminds me of the lines from the song Big Yellow Taxi, "They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum and charged the people a dollar and a half to see them," and "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

I like that they're doing this. I wish our system wasn't at the same time burning so many leaves in the Amazon and all over that were helping us already.

On the otherhand, if us humans can make a replacement for trees which aren't susceptible to fire, which acts as as better carbon sink, and which more effectively produces useful stuff for us, then it isn't necessarily bad for us to replace trees with artificial ones.

"Losing patience, he sent the message:

You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.

The Spartan ephors again replied with a single word:

If." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laconic_phrase

Depends on your definition of "bad."

There are countless species of tree, shrub, grass, and moss in a typical forest. Also, fungi, bacteria, birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, arachnids. In the rivers, lakes and streams within a forest ecosystem there's countless fish, crustaceans, algae, plankton.

If we "replace" the trees, perhaps through fire, then we lose the biodiversity that comes with them. The biodiversity is a naturally balanced system with finely interweaved chemical processes that mutually support the whole. We lose the trees, we lose everything that comes with them and end up with desert.

A desert world covered in plastic "trees" is not the future I want for my children, and I am sure many would agree.

Right, the Never-Never of Australia has in the past offered license to a venture hoping to make much of that desert's temperature swings and day insolation, loping off the train and eventually (4mos.) faltering when the human maintainer looked best [they felt isolated and things broke.]

10.1016@j.joule.2019.07.010.pdf nominates it (and The Sahara) to host Radiative Cooling (e.g. blown film er, tents or such) to buy us time to fix the full 20+ gigatons of carbon a year. It would lower risks to the photocatalytic and other green process chemical and pharma. efforts nearby. Indeed it's probably more attractive to make antimalarial drugs than to photoproduce ozone for use on catalysts to treat sewage (on N-doped MoO2 substrate, say.) Straps are necessary for the boot...good speed.

And like often, the correct question is: why not both? Why not have trees and artificial trees, especially if the latter can be optimized for carbon sequestration and/or industrial-scale production of medicine?


While I really agree with what you're saying though I think you're falling into the same trap a bit.

If you can be civil I think you'd have convinced others to agree with you. If you can't: Downvote, flag, and we move on.

For the record, once you reply you prevent him from deleting his comment.

This comment is boldly presumptuous. I could argue that you love the feeling of superiority and righteous indignation so much that you completely disregard general etiquette when speaking with other people. Your disrespect and lack of empathy make the world a far worse place. If you were a decent person, you would apologize for not taking your medication this morning.

Please don't reply to an egregious comment by breaking the site guidelines yourself. That only makes this place worse.


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