Readers investigate June Lindsey’s legacy, question policy and celebrate vaccination

Maureen Mackay and morphine

To the information in the very interesting article about June Lindsey by Katrina Krämer I should like to add the following. Lindsey’s first post after her Cambridge PhD was with Dorothy Hodgkin, who had recently become a fellow of the Royal Society. The work was on the structure of vitamin B12 and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Vitamin B12 features in Dorothy Hodgkin’s 1964 Nobel lecture, as does penicillin. June Lindsey was one author of a paper on vitamin B12 published by Hodgkin’s group in Nature in 1954.

Krämer informs us that Lindsey did not publish her work on the structure of morphine, carried out at the National Research Council in Canada, as Hodgkin had assigned a graduate student to the structure of morphine. Instead, Krämer informs us, Lindsey ‘preferred the student to use and build upon her results’. The graduate student’s name was Maureen Mackay, and I have managed to trace the published work on morphine by Hodgkin and Mackay (DOI: 10.1039/JR9550003261). It states: ‘After this investigation had begun, we learnt of similar studies undertaken by Dr H Scoloudi and Dr J Lindsay [sic], with both of whom we compared conclusions. Dr Lindsay’s work on codeine hydrobromide gives detailed results in agreement with ours and is being published in Acta Crystallographica.’

Clifford Jones FRSC
University of Chester, UK


Gas works

The letter from Michael Baldwin brought a smile to my face. Some time ago I wrote a piece suggesting that coal power stations should have a gas works erected next to them and the coal used to make coal gas that could be used to generate electricity. In the long term this would work by using the extracted hydrogen in fuel cells, and in the short term by burning the gas to drive the steam turbines. I did mention that there was some work on putting hydrogen into the gas mains.

I sent a copy to my MP Will Quince, who kindly forwarded it to the appropriate department of government. He got a reply from a junior minister saying that we stopped putting coal gas into the mains because it was poisonous. Clearly that minister knew no economics: British Gas found it was cheaper to import liquefied natural gas from Algeria and later to have it from north sea wells!

In fact a similar idea has been thought of in India where next to a coal mine near Kolkata, a gas works has been built and the gases used to smelt iron ore. I have just read an article in the Indian newspaper Business Standard that pushes for many more such works. Apparently the Indian government is already pushing for many gasification plants. I think the German and Polish governments should be studying this as the use of natural gas exposes them to political pressure from Russia as well as being environmentally unfriendly.

Of course, all organic matter contains hydrogen, which can be released by pyrolysis, and plants exist or are planned for doing this with waste (such as the Ellesmere Port Project) and natural gas (a University of Oxford spinout and BASF). It is not the mining of fossil fuels that is the problem for the environment, rather it is burning them!

David Greenslade FRSC
Via email 

Net zero tolerance for pharma

As an analytical chemist I was always very wary of swallowing any white pills or sugary medicines. In fact I edged towards herbal remedies as it was more obvious where they came from. At least they had to be planted and grown (usually organically) before harvesting, thus having a lower or even negative carbon footprint!

Our NHS would do well to rethink its alliance with ‘Big Pharma’. The collateral damage from over-prescribing unsustainable products continues to cause serious environmental harm.

What tends to be forgotten is that ‘net zero’ is not zero. And that sustainability should result in an increase of biodiversity. Chemists have been guilty of making new products which appear to help the former while damaging the latter. I welcome the openness and transparency in recent analytical thinking.

Finally it was good to receive a mini chemistry set (lateral flow kit). Unfortunately it just adds to the plastic mountain of pharmacy legacy.

Malcolm Macqueen MRSC CChem
Ayrshire, UK

Strides against malaria

News that the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it had approved the world’s first malaria vaccineis welcomed as a milestone in the battle against a scourge that has plagued humans for millennia. Too many African children have been lost to the disease, particularly in rural areas where access to health care is limited.

The vaccine targets the deadliest malaria parasite and the most common in Africa – Plasmodium falciparum. The vaccine will bolster the fight against malaria but health officials will still have to deploy a ‘Swiss cheese strategy’ that includes insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying.

The main challenge facing the malaria vaccine will be how to efficiently distribute it, not just to regions with moderate to high transmission but also to conflict zones where malaria is endemic. Health officials will have to balance and match malaria vaccination with other child immunisation campaigns like polio and measles.

Malaria has been around for millennia, and the dream of a malaria vaccine has been long-held, but unattainable. The reason for the slow progress in eradicating malaria is partly technical. The parasite that causes the disease, of which there are five kinds, passes through several life stages, making it more difficult to target with a vaccine. There is still a very long road to travel. But this is a long stride down that road.

Gerry Coughlan MRSC
Dublin, Ireland 

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In the article How elements are made beyond the stars (Chemistry World, Jan 2022, p28) we gave Imre Bartos’ affiliation incorrectly; he is at the University of Florida