By William Booth

"I admit it does sound crazy," says Michael Wong of his idea to use gold to clean up toxic waste. Wong plans to combine gold with palladium—an even more precious metal—to treat polluted groundwater beneath waste dumps and contaminated factories and military sites. "It not only works faster [than current methods], but a hundred times faster," Wong says, "and I bet it will be cheaper too."

A golden detergent? Here is Wong's trick: he creates nanoparticles of gold. In his realm, the work product is measured not in carats but in atoms. A thimbleful of coffee-colored solution contains 100 trillion gold spheres—each only 15 atoms wide, or about the width of a virus. Upon every golden nanosphere, Wong and his team dust a dash of palladium atoms. Think of an infinitely small ice-cream scoop flecked with sprinkles.

Rajesh GokhaleRajesh Gokhale has created a compound in his lab in India that stops tuberculosis in its tracks. In a test tube, the molecule hits four of the bacterium's crucial metabolic pathways at the same time, weakening and ultimately destroying the pathogen.

The problem is that Gokhale's compound will not work in humans. Not willing to set aside seven years of work, he has been knocking on the doors of pharmaceutical companies to see if he can get any takers to help design a less toxic version. Gokhale is pushing himself because he knows if he can design a single drug that is safe and effective, it might one day replace the costly cocktail of drugs that people with tuberculosis must currently take to cure their disease.

robert tjianThe Trustees of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute today announce the election of Robert Tjian of the University of California, Berkeley, as the Institute's new president. A distinguished biochemist and long-time HHMI investigator, he will assume his new role on April 1, 2009.

Tjian will succeed Thomas R. Cech, who has served as HHMI's president since January 2000. Cech had announced his decision to step down from the presidency earlier this year in order to return to full-time research and teaching at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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