Molecules/Matter & Energy

Sulfur found in life's possible early building blocks, plus fingerprint clues and frozen blood in this week's news

Miller-Urey redux: sulfur version

A new analysis of samples left over from a famous experiment done more than 50 years ago may shed light on life’s origins. In the 1950s, chemists zapping a primordial stew of compounds with electricity produced amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Reanalyzing those amino acids using modern techniques reveals the presence of sulfur in the compounds, researchers report online March 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Comparisons to the distribution of amino acids found in some meteorites suggest that hydrogen sulfide played a role in amino acid formation in the early solar system. The work may also inform the chemistry of volcanic plumes, which the famed Miller-Urey experiments simulated. —Rachel Ehrenberg


Fingerprint pick-me-up

A mat spun from nanofibers and a bit of hot air makes latent fingerprints visible in seconds, simplifying a task that often involves various chemicals and fancy spectroscopic techniques. Researchers from Nanjing University of Technology in China laced fibrous sheets spun from a polyurethane resin with fluorescein, a dye used in environmental testing and medical diagnostics. Softly pressing the mat onto surfaces bearing fingerprints breaks bonds between the fibers and the dye, and hot air reveals a bright red print within five seconds, researchers report March 17 in Angewandte Chemie. Tests on quartz, stainless steel, polypropylene film, marble and wood surfaces all showed clear ridge details in plain daylight. —Rachel Ehrenberg


Vitrified blood

A new way to freeze blood may help it last longer in blood banks. Banked fresh blood must be used within 40 days, and 1.2 million units were discarded in the United States in 2006 after expiring. Blood can be frozen for longer storage, but this often damages substantial numbers of cells. Now, researchers at Harvard Medical School and MIT have developed an automated technique to spray a solution of blood cells and small amount of glycerol onto a surface within a frigid environment, creating frozen microspheres with one or more cells inside glycerol jackets. Cell damage remains low as a high volume of blood enters suspended animation, the scientists report March 11 in PLoS One. —Janet Raloff

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