Molecules/Matter & Energy

Billions of particles get entangled, plus more in this week’s news

Billions and billions, entangled
Quantum computers made of everyday stuff — silicon, for example — just got a step closer to reality. In a paper published online January 19 in Nature, Oxford-led researchers report entangling 10 billion pairs of electron and nuclear spins, meaning that information about one of those spins conveys information about its partner and the other 10 billion pairs. The work is the first time so many particles in a solid-state system have been entangled at once. —Alexandra Witze

Anesthetic access
The general anesthetics desflurane and propofol, also known as milk of amnesia, are both routinely used, but how they cast their sleep spells in the body is poorly understood. Now researchers have witnessed both anesthetics interacting with a long-suspected molecular target, a channel that cuts across cell membranes. Propofol strikes via a cavity at the channel’s entrance while the smaller desflurane wriggles deeper inside, French scientists report January 20 in Nature. The reconnaissance could lead to new anesthetics that target the same cellular nooks and crannies. —Rachel Ehrenberg

Life’s John Hancock
Detecting a chemical fingerprint of alien life might be possible, even if the alien uses completely different biochemistry than that found on Earth. Here on Earth, life’s processes yield distributions of molecules that differ from those made in nonliving processes. Extraterrestrial life should also leave a detectable signature, argue Ken Nealson from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and colleagues in an upcoming Journal of Molecular Evolution. Assessing the chemical signatures of several nonliving and living sources revealed discernable patterns, as did analysis of an artificial life system based on “molecules” built from computer code. The analysis suggests that the signature phenomenon is universal and should aid searches for extraterrestrial life. —Rachel Ehrenberg

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