From Alberto Nunez Selles, president, Cuban Chemical Society

My sincere congratulations for your article Biotechnology: the 2nd Cuban revolution (Chemistry World, November, 2004, p38) giving an objective picture of present bioscience and chemistry R&D in Cuba.

Just for historical reasons, I wish to call your attention to a pitfall in the second paragraph. In 1980, a senior scientist from the US offered his facilities to Cuban scientists in order to get acquainted with the use of alpha-IFN several months before the dengue fever epidemic. In order to develop interferon production, contacts were made with Kan Cantell (Finland). Six Cuban researchers went to his lab for one week to manufacture alpha-IFN from human blood leukocytes. That technology was developed in Cuba in six weeks in the middle of 1981, and some patients suffering from dengue fever were treated with Cuban-made alpha-IFN in the second half of 1981.

The basis of the development of biotechnology and genetic engineering in Cuba has nothing to do with the former Soviet Union, nor with president Fidel Castro’s visit to that country. This does not exclude that further cooperation was established with soviet centres. The visit you mentioned in your article was in 1985, to the centre led by Y Ovtchinikov.

A J Nunez Selles
Havana, Cuba


From Josep Font

The article by Brian Malpass about chemical origins (Chemistry World, October, p88) reminds me of the work of another linguistic and lexicographic genius that reformed and fixed the Catalan tongue at the beginning of the last century. I’m referring to Pompeu Fabra, a chemical engineer that taught chemistry and mathematics at the Civil Engineering Superior School in Bilbao, Spain, but slowly became a grammar specialist.

He defended that his chemistry formation was decisive when he formulated and gave philological instructions. Thanks to his Catalan grammar (1918), and mainly his General dictionary of the Catalan language (1932), this idiom, spoken by more than 10 million people, has brightly flourished and has not died despite many troublesome times.

Barcelona, Spain


From John Hoskins

I was intrigued by your extensive coverage of turmeric and cow dung in Chemistry World (November, p72). Eye-catching as it was I fear you must send your correspondent, Alan Malcolm, back to his search engine for a more balanced picture.

Turmeric as a curry spice is certainly fertilised by cow dung in India, as are many other edible roots. When grown the root is dug up, cleaned, boiled in clean water and dried. This is the spice of commerce and can be bought as such or ground.

The occasional macerating of rhizomes in some parts of rural India in cow dung extract is deprecated for many reasons including the obvious, as is the addition of lead chromate to add colour and weight. I doubt that any so treated reach the commercial market.

Turmeric is also used as a dyestuff. Vegetable fibres are dyed with turmeric using a mordant. A slurry of cow dung may be used to remove excess mordant although lately sodium silicate has been substituted because it gives deeper colours.

Since cow dung contains appreciable quantities of silica/silicate it is postulated that sodium silicate is the active ingredient in the dung anyway. Overall a nice story but sensation got in the way of information.

J Hoskins, CChem FRSC
Reigate, UK


From Bill Price

I read with great interest your editorial (In Praise of Risky Science) in the October issue (p2) of Chemistry World and I am in agreement with your views. I am very pleased to see such positive articles on blue sky research.

Unfortunately too many people do not understand the importance of blue sky research and seem to equate ’blue sky’ with ’white elephant’.

W Price CChem FRSC
Sydney, Australia