Chemists hope a new variant of vancomycin that contains buckyballs — tiny cage-shaped molecules of pure carbon — could become the world’s first targeted antibiotic, creating a new line of defense against bioweapons like anthrax. Vancomycin, which entered clinical service 40 years ago, is the antibiotic of last resort, given only when all others fail. Unfortunately, vancomycin-resistant strains of bacteria have appeared in recent years.
Building upon this summer’s groundbreaking finding that carbon nanotubes are fluorescent, chemists at Rice University have precisely identified the optical signatures of 33 “species” of nanotubes, establishing a new methodology for assaying nanotubes that is simpler and faster than existing methods. In research published this week by Science magazine, a spectroscopy research team led by Rice Chemistry Professor R. Bruce Weisman detailed the wavelengths of light that are absorbed and emitted by each type of light-emitting nanotube. The findings hold great promise for chemists, physicists and materials scientists studying nanotubes, because it otherwise takes many hours of tedious testing for researchers to assay a single sample of nanotubes, and optical tests could be much faster and simpler.