CHEMISTRY: A USEFUL SCIENCE
By Odera Umeugoji
Existing in the world today are several, either currently or anticipatedly, devastating, life-threatening dilemmas. It is therefore imperative that action is taken swiftly if these problems are to be nullified, at least somewhat, for the good of many people across the world. The central science (chemistry) will most likely have a significant role to play, concerning the tackling of these problems.
Since the late 19th century, global surface temperatures have increased by 0.9°C, and this figure is only due to augment. In recent times, the primary cause of global warming has been the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, notably carbon dioxide which warms the earth via the greenhouse effect. Due to the work and innovation of chemists, the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is becoming more successful.
A sizeable reason for this is the adoption of cleaner energy. For example, hydrogen is now being used as fuel more frequently because it is lightweight, burns cleanly and produces water vapour only (not as harmful as carbon dioxide). If burning hydrogen was to become the regular mode of energy production, carbon dioxide levels would cease to increase at such an alarming rate, hence slowing the rate of global warming – a chemical contribution to solving a sincere problem.
The extent of world hunger is enlarging rapidly. Currently, well over 800 million people (1 in 9 people) are undernourished. A large factor contributing to food insecurity is delivery – those suffering have a tendency to reside in unreachable areas. It would therefore be useful for these people to have resources to utilise which are local to them:
Plants consist of cellulose, a sugar which cannot be digested by humans. However, the work and research of chemists might one day allow for cellulose to consistently be converted to starch which can then be digested. However, such a technique would require the utmost precision due to subtle differences in the chemical composition of the glucose found in starch and cellulose (i.e. converting beta-glucose to alpha-glucose). If successful, this will provide people with more food without the difficulty of delivery, because plants are abundant in many areas. On a large enough scale, this has the potential to thoroughly remedy the food insecurity.
Moreover, fertiliser has and will be vital to lessening world hunger. The Haber-Bosch process was founded by two chemists and is now used to make fertiliser universally. In this process, ammonia forms from nitrogen and hydrogen and is used in fertilisers, which are central to the availability of food in less developed countries.
In both cases, it is evident that chemistry can pave the way for increased food security, by increasing food supply. However, the issue regarding the equitable distribution of food remains an issue of governance and as such, developing a sustainable method of distributing food is still an issue.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the most threatening problems of the modern day. With Bacteria having evolved to be immune to previously-successful antibiotics, it is clear that synthesising new antibiotics will not be a viable solution – the past will inevitably repeat itself. New methods must be found, therefore.
Vancomycin (a widely-used antibiotic) no longer has an effect on certain bacteria because of their immunity. Fortunately, chemists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that combining the antibiotic with other drugs, can make the Vancomycin 5 times as powerful, i.e., powerful enough to destroy bacteria it cannot kill on its own. If such methods are developed further, they will help in eradicating the problems caused by antibiotic resistance in the future.
Antibiotic resistance stems from an interesting property of bacteria. They are covered with pili which enable them to transfer plasmids during this primitive form of reproduction. This leads to the ability to transfer the genes which would be expressed for antibiotic resistance. So a single bacterium surviving an antibiotic leads to the issue of them transferring this property to other bacteria.
In summary, chemistry is applicable in many fields, as evidenced by the many ways it can have a significant impact in the solving of global problems. Consequently, it should not be overlooked as an area for research when there are global issues. Chemistry will continue to have an extensive, positive effect on the world.