Researchers at Duke University Medical Center stumbled upon a molecule that is vital to the production of nylon through an economical, green technology during their research pertaining to identification of a cure for cancer.
The discovery lends credibility to the interesting idea of employing the chemical and genetic changes brought on by cancer tumors in beneficial applications. The intended purpose of the study by Duke University researchers was to gain insight into the mechanism of tumor development that would facilitate the design of effective treatments.
Nylon is a material with wide applications in apparel, carpeting, auto parts and upholstery. The chemical adipic acid is the key building block for nylon production. Adipic acid is currently derived from fossil fuels. Owing to its widespread use, the production of adipic acid is considered as one of the major causes of global warming. A green technique to produce adipic acid is hindered by the inability to produce a critical enzyme called 2-hydroxyadipate dehydrogenase. This enzyme is a vital part of a series of enzymes necessary to convert cheap sugars into environment friendly adipic acid. Cancer research has provided a solution for this problem. In 2008 and 2009, Duke University researchers discovered a genetic mutation in brain tumors that could modify the function of the enzyme, isocitrate dehydrogenase.
Cutting to the present, researcher Zachary J. Reitman and his colleagues suspected that the cancerous genetic mutation could modify the enzyme homoisocitrate dehydrogenase present in yeast and bacteria into the much needed 2-hydroxyadipate dehydrogenase. The study proved them right. The next step is to improve the scalability of the adipic acid generation process.