“What would happen, hypothetically, if a baby mouse could grow up eating only deuterated food and water? Could you make an unusually heavy mouse?” asked Sharon Neufeldt in an entertaining post on her ‘I can has science?’ blog. Assuming that the elemental make-up of a mouse is pretty similar to that of a human, Neufeldt estimates it would be 10% heavier — but not “a fat mouse, just a more dense mouse.” Of course, those readers familiar with the kinetic isotope effect and cellular function will realize that the poor, if hypothetical, heavy mouse would not last long with all its hydrogen atoms swapped for deuterium. As Neufeldt discusses, “a carbon-deuterium bond can be 6.5 times slower to break than a carbon-hydrogen bond”, which could have pretty drastic consequences to your mouse “cells won’t be able to function properly and [the mouse] will start to die.”
But what about enriching the mouse with 13C? The smaller kinetic isotope effect might help the mouse’s health, but the weight gain wouldn’t be anywhere near as striking at a mere 1.5%. Neufeldt also points out another flaw in her plan: it would cost over $600 a day to feed her mouse on commercially available 13C-labelled glucose. At that price, she said she might as well treat the mouse to three meals a day at her favourite French restaurant.
One of the most positive and publicly visible uses of chemistry has to be in art conservation and restoration so it’s great to see that Chemical & Engineering News’ Sarah Everts has launched a new blog on this topic, called Artful Science. Posts have so far covered topics as different as the chemistry behind fading blue pigments, the isotope techniques used to discover whether the influx of South American silver really did cause the ‘Price Revolution’, and using DNA from ancient Maori cloaks to track feather trade routes.