Molecules/Matter & Energy

Human magnetism, electronic fungus sniffers and heat-triggered tumor killers in this week's news

Targeting tumors with heat

By putting the heat on tumor cells, scientists may make anticancer drugs more effective and less toxic. To reduce the side effects that occur when cancer drugs poison healthy cells, researchers in Switzerland attached various heat-sensitive molecules to the chemotherapy drug chlorambucil. When tested on human cancer cells, one of the new heat-sensitive versions of the drug was not toxic at body temperature, but did its anticancer stuff on cells that were a few degrees warmer. The finding suggests that some drugs might be locally activated by heating only the area needing therapy, sparing other cells, the team reports in an upcoming Angewandte Chemie International Edition. —Rachel Ehrenberg

Human magnetism

In the X-Men comic books, Magneto fights by controlling magnetic fields; now a new study suggests that perhaps non-villains can sense magnetic fields too. Fruit flies can use a protein abundant in people’s retinas to sense magnetic fields, scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester report June 21 in Nature Communications. Researchers swapped a human light-sensing molecule called cryptochrome with the flies’ own magnetic field-sensing protein. The human protein allowed the flies to distinguish between high and normal magnetic fields. The results revive a controversial debate over whether humans can detect magnetic fields, the authors write. —Laura Sanders

Sniffing out toxic fungi electronically

A German-Italian research team has assembled an array of solid-state sensors to distinguish the subtle aromas emitted by Fusarium species, toxic fungi that infect cereal grains worldwide. On average, the electronic nose sniffed out the toxic fungi — by species — 94 percent of the time, the scientists report June 9 in PLoS ONE. This e-nose had more trouble measuring the severity of infection, though, and misclassified heavy fungal contamination as light contamination 18 percent of the time. But the scientists argue that their system shows promise in identifying stored grains that should be culled. —Janet Raloff

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