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Chemistry News Archive June 2008

Chemistry News June 2008

News of the year 2008 in the fields of chemistry and chemistry-related topics like biochemistry, nantechnology, medicinal chemistry etc.

Main focus: press releases, scientific research results and summaries of chemistry articles, that are published in chemistry journals.

Please send us a eMail to publish your press release!




Researchers confirm benzene-like electron delocalization of important molecule
UO team's findings could pave way for synthetic compounds useful in drug discovery and materials science.


Hydrogen�chlorine exchange

Fair Trade

Lanthanum chloride catalyzes hydrogen-chlorine exchange between chlorinated hydrocarbons.


Water soluble quantum dots

Microwave synthesis connects with the (quantum) dots

Materials researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a simplified, low-cost process for producing high-quality, water-soluble "quantum dots" for biological research.


UCR chemists use 'green chemistry' to produce amines, chemical compounds used widely in industry
Catalyst discovered in Guy Bertrand's lab helps produce amines at low cost and no waste products.


Hydroxycarbene, HCOH
Phantom parent molecule of important class of chemical compounds isolated for first time.


A Wafer of Polyethylene
Ultrathin polyethylene films made of nanocrystals.


Physics - Fundamental Research


Non-magnetic lattice - Credit: Sava Denev

Study Finds New Properties in Non-Magnetic Materials

A team of Penn State researchers has shown for the first time that the entire class of non-magnetic materials, such as those used in some computer components, could have considerably more uses than scientists had thought.

The findings are important because they reveal previously unknown information about the structure of these materials, expanding the number of properties and uses that they potentially could have.



Surprising graphene

Honing in on graphene electronics with infrared synchrotron radiation.

Researchers have measured the extraordinary properties of graphene with an accuracy never before achieved.


Chemistry & Biology


Researchers reveal insights into hidden world of protein folding
The proteins upon which life depends share an attribute with paper airplanes: Unless folded properly, they just won't fly ...


Chemistry & Medicine


New test makes cheating with drugs in sports easier to detect
Research news from Journal of Mass Spectrometry.


Tracking Prions
Magnetic resonance studies find clear differences between the structures of infectious and non-infectious prions.


Ancient antibody molecule offers clues to how humans evolved allergies
Scientists have discovered how evolution may have lumbered humans with allergy problems.


New fingerprint breakthrough by forensic scientists
University of Leicester and Northamptonshire Police research reveals new techniques for identifying prints on metal.


Chemistry & Food



Substance in red wine found to keep hearts young

Scientists report in an open access article that low doses of resveratrol can potentially boost the quality of life by improving heart health in old age.


Chemistry & Nanotechnology


Tethered Molecules Act as Light-Driven Reversible Nanoswitches

The ability to see is based on molecules in the eye that flip from one conformation to another when exposed to visible light. Now, a new technique for attaching light-sensitive organic molecules to metal surfaces allows the molecules to be switched between two different configurations in response to exposure to different wavelengths of light.


Chemistry & Environment


Proteins can reduce the toxic content in rice
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have found the proteins which govern how plants absorb arsenic. With this discovery, a variety of rice can be developed which does not absorb the toxin, even if it is irrigated with untreated water.


ACS News (open access articles):



The tummy's taste for red wine with red meat

Red wine

Scientists are reporting that red wine can block formation of harmful substances released during digestion of fat in meat.

Image by public-domain-photos.com

What happens when red wine meets red meat? If the rendezvous happens in the stomach, scientists in Israel are reporting, wine's bounty of healthful chemical compounds may thwart formation of harmful substances released during digestion of fat in the meat. The study, which reinforces the benefits of consuming wine and other foods rich in so-called polyphenols during meals, appears in the June 11 issue of ACS's bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

In the study, Joseph Kanner and colleagues point out that scientists attribute wine's health benefits, including protection against cancer and heart disease, to its high levels of polyphenols, powerful antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables. However, the body does not absorb polyphenols easily, and scientists have been puzzled about how and where these substances exert their beneficial effects.

The researchers found an explanation in experiments with laboratory rats fed either red meat or meat combined with red wine concentrate. Wine concentrate substantially reduced formation of two byproducts of fat digestion, malondialdehyde and hydroperoxide, which are toxic to cells. The researchers say the stomach acts as a "bioreactor" that facilitates the beneficial effects of polyphenols. The polyphenols work not only to prevent generation of cytotoxic compounds, but also as compounds which prevent the absorption of cytotoxic compounds from the gastrointestinal tract into the blood stream. - MTS

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "The Stomach as a 'Bioreactor': When Red Meat Meets Red Wine".


Proteins could relate to increased longevity in women

Scientists in Spain and Italy have identified a group of proteins in laboratory rats that could help explain two enduring medical mysteries - why women live longer than men and why calorie restriction stands as the only proven method of extending longevity. Their study, which could help scientists understand the biochemical underpinnings of aging, is scheduled for the July 3 issue of ACS' monthly Journal of Proteome Research.

In the study, Adamo Valle and colleagues point out that women, on average, live years longer than men. Previous studies also have shown that diets extremely low in calories consistently increase maximum life spans in a wide range of animals. Scientists have speculated that the explanation may involve hormones, stress, cardiovascular protection and other factors.

Using lab rats as stand-ins for humans, the researchers found that the livers of both female rats and calorie-restricted rats produced different levels of 27 proteins than male rats or those on a normal diet. The findings suggest that a previously unrecognized set of cellular pathways may be involved in the longevity boost from being female and eating a sparse diet, the study says, suggesting that these insights could lead to new ways of boosting human longevity. - JS

Journal of Proteome Research: "Combined Effect of Gender and Caloric Restriction on Liver Proteomic Expression Profile".


Toward perfumed-clothing: Fabric-friendly "microcapsules" hide unpleasant body odors

Researchers in Portugal are reporting development of a new type of "microcapsule" filled with perfume and embedded in fabric for production of scented suits, socks, undergarments and other clothing. The same technology can be used in many other applications, such as to mask unpleasant body odors when using textile products. They describe the material, which is also environmentally-friendly, in a report scheduled for the July 2 issue of ACS' Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, a bi-weekly journal.

In the new study, Alirio E. Rodrigues and colleagues point out that microcapsules, or submicroscopic shells, have been used for years to deliver fragrances in commercial products ranging from scratch-and-sniff stickers to the peel-apart fragrance samples found in magazine inserts. But current microcapsules are made using formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing agent that is also an environmental hazard. Safer, more effective materials are needed to extend this scented technology to textiles, the researchers say.

The researchers identified polyurethane-urea, a type of environmentally-friendly plastic that is compatible with fabrics, as a solution. They used the material to prepare microcapsules containing limonene, the familiar scent abundant in lemons and widely-used in perfumes, and applied the capsules onto wool and polyester samples. In laboratory tests, the microcapsules showed good performance in terms of prolonged fragrance production and durability, the researchers say. - MTS

Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research: "Microencapsulation of Limonene for Textile Application".


Toward long-range beach forecasts on bacterial contamination

Scientists are reporting development of a water quality prediction method so that vacationers can better plan beach holidays.

Image by public-domain-photos.com

Long-range forecasts of beach bacterial contamination are inching closer to reality because of a new water quality prediction method scheduled for publication in the July 15 issue of the ACS' Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal. "For the first time, this study showed that bacteria concentrations could be forecasted with reasonable accuracy, hastening the day when people will be able to better plan their beach holidays," the report says.

In the new study, Walter E. Frick and colleagues explain that decisions on whether beaches are safe for swimming, or should be closed due to fecal contamination, are based on testing the water for E. coli. However, existing tests take 24 hours to complete, providing a backward-only look at conditions the previous day. As a result, beaches may be closed unnecessarily when water quality has improved, or open when water quality has declined and disease-causing microorganisms are present.

Building on pioneering modeling studies in the Great Lakes by the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) and others, the researchers developed "Virtual Beach," a broadly-applicable software tool for the development of models that predict concentrations of indicators of fecal contamination at beaches. Unique features of Virtual Beach are the ability to evaluate a dynamic modeling approach for using short-term data sets to rapidly develop reliable models, and the use of available weather and marine forecast variables to forecast E. coli levels 24 hours or more in advance.

Evaluations of Virtual Beach were accomplished using data collected by USGS, NOAA and other sources for Huntington Beach on Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio. During the 42-day study, models developed by Virtual Beach correctly forecasted 24 hours in advance eight instances when E. coli levels exceeded safety standards. These results exceeded the accuracy of traditional sampling methods and approximately matched the accuracy of nowcasting (real-time predictions), according to the researchers. - DD

Environmental Science & Technology: "Nowcasting and Forecasting Concentrations of Biological Contaminants at Beaches: A Feasibility and Case Study".


A healthier July Fourth: Eco-friendly fireworks and flares poised to light up the sky

Scientists plan to replace potassium perchlorate, a harmful substance widely used in fireworks, with cleaner, less toxic materials.

Image by Wikimedia Commons

From the rockets' red glare to bombs bursting in air, researchers are developing more environmentally friendly fireworks and flares to light up the night sky while minimizing potential health risks, according to an article scheduled for the June 30 issue of Chemical & Engineering News. Some eco-friendly fireworks may soon appear at a Fourth of July display or rock concert near you.

In the C&EN cover story, Associate Editor Bethany Halford points out that fireworks, flares and other so-called pyrotechnics commonly include potassium perchlorate to speed up the fuel-burning process. But some studies have linked perchlorate, which can accumulate in the soil, air and water, to thyroid damage. Pyrotechnics also contain color-producing heavy metals, such as barium and copper, which have also been linked to toxic effects.

Researchers recently developed new pyrotechnic formulas that replace perchlorate with nitrogen-rich materials or nitrocellulose that burn cleaner and produce less smoke. At the same time, these nitrogen-rich formulas also use fewer color-producing chemicals, dramatically cutting down on the amount of heavy metals used and lowering their potentially toxic effects. Some of these fireworks are already being used at circuses, rock concerts, and other events. The big challenge in developing these "eco-friendly" pyrotechnics is making them as cost-effective as conventional fireworks while maintaining their dazzle and glow, the article states.

Chemical & Engineering News: "Pyrotechnics For The Planet".


Prions are not degraded by conventional sewage treatment processes

Wastewater treatment plant

Wastewater treatment plants do not reduce harmful proteins called prions that cause incurable brain infections, such as Mad Cow disease, scientists report.

Photo by Katherine McMahon

Scientists in Wisconsin are reporting in a paper scheduled for the July 1 issue of ACS' Environmental Science & Technology that typical wastewater treatment processes do not degrade prions. Prions, rogue proteins that cause incurable brain infections such as Mad Cow disease and its human equivalent, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, are difficult to inactivate, resisting extreme heat, chemical disinfectants, and irradiation. Until now, scientists did not know whether prions entering sewers and septic tanks from slaughterhouses, meatpacking facilities, or private game dressing, could survive and pass through conventional sewage treatment plants.

Joel Pedersen and colleagues used laboratory experiments with simulated wastewater treatment to show that prions can be recovered from wastewater sludge after 20 days, remaining in the "biosolids," a byproduct of sewage treatment sometimes used to fertilize farm fields.

Although emphasizing that prions have never been reported in wastewater treatment plant water or biosolids, the researchers note that existing tests are not sufficiently sensitive to detect the extremely low levels of prions possible in those materials. - AD

Environmental Science & Technology: "Persistence of Pathogenic Prion Protein during Simulated Wastewater Treatment Processes".


New test for more reliable product expiration labels

Researchers have developed a new, more reliable test for predicting the shelf-life of light-sensitive food and drink products.

Photo by public-domain-photos.com

Beer gets a "skunky" taste. Wine develops an unpleasant flavor termed "light-struck." And exposure to light causes off flavors, colors, and aromas in hundreds of other foods and beverages and decreases shelf life. Now, researchers in Italy report development of a more reliable method for predicting shelf-life that accounts for light sensitivity for the first time and may help consumers choose fresher, tastier food products. Their study is scheduled for the June 25 issue of ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

In the new study, Lara Manzocco and colleagues note that the bright, intense light of retail displays is widely known to cause the formation of off-flavors, loss of nutrients, and color fading in food and beverages. But conventional methods to test the shelf-life of these products focus on the effect of heat and ignore the effect of light, leading to underestimations in shelf-life shown on product expiration labels. A more reliable test is needed, the researchers say.

The scientists exposed a soft drink containing saffron, which contains light-sensitive substances, to different levels of light at increasing temperatures. They found that the beverage grew lighter in color as light intensity increased, confirming that light can cause a dramatic decrease in beverage quality. Based on these observations, the scientists developed a new mathematical model that measures light-sensitivity as well as temperature to provide a more reliable method for predicting shelf-life. - MTS

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Shelf Life Modeling of Photosensitive Food: The Case of Colored Beverages".


New research reports that 12 million molecules share 143 basic shapes

Chemists in Ohio have discovered that half of all of the known chemical compounds in the world have an amazing similarity in sharing only 143 basic molecular shapes. That sharply limits the number of molecular building blocks that chemists often deploy in efforts to develop new drugs and other products, the researchers say in a study scheduled for the June 20 issue of the bi-weekly ACS' Journal of Organic Chemistry.

Alan H. Lipkus and colleagues note that researchers have known for years that certain features of molecules, such as rings of atoms and the bonds than link them together, appear time after time in hundreds of life-saving medications, food additives, and other widely used products.

Scientists often tend to focus on these well-known types of molecular scaffolding in their quest to select the most promising rings, linkers, and other components for building new drugs while overlooking less familiar structures, the researchers say.

In the new study, they analyzed the chemical frameworks of more than 24 million organic substances found in the ACS' Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Registry, the world's most comprehensive database of disclosed molecules. They found that half of the substances could be described by only 143 basic framework shapes. By paying more attention to a multitude of other molecular shapes, chemists might discover an array of useful rings, linkers, and other building blocks for tomorrow's drugs and other medical, commercial, and industrial products, the study concluded. - MTS

Journal of Organic Chemistry: "Structural Diversity of Organic Chemistry. A Scaffold Analysis of the CAS Registry".


Building giant 'nanoassemblies' that sense their environment

An optical photograph reveals self-assembly of hybrid nanowires resulting in this golden droplet. Such structures could help develop nanomachines for the medical community, scientists report.

Image by Pulickel M. Ajayan

Researchers in Texas are reporting the design, construction, and assembly of nano-size building blocks into the first giant structures that can sense and respond to changes in environmental conditions. The study, scheduled for the July 9 issue of ACS's Nano Letters, a monthly journal, terms those structures "giant" because they are about the size of a grain of rice - millions of times larger than anything in the submicroscopic realm of the nanoworld.

In the new study, Pulickel M. Ajayan and colleagues point out that such structures are a step toward the development of futuristic nanomachines with practical applications in delivering medicines to patients, labs-on-a-chip, and other products. Until now, scientists have had difficulty in using nanomaterials to build more complex, multifunctional objects needed for those applications.

The researchers describe development of a hybrid nanowire consisting of segments with water-repelling carbon nanotubes on one end and water-attracting metal nanowires on the other end. In laboratory tests, they showed that the nanowires could assemble themselves into larger, more complex structures when placed in water. The structures also sensed and responded to their environment by making movements when exposed to chemicals, magnets, and light. The findings "could lead to the creation of smart materials that are a cornerstone for the development of nanotechnology-based applications," the study notes.

Nano Letters: "Controlled Manipulation of Giant Hybrid Inorganic Nanowire Assemblies".


Chemists develop healthier foods

From carrots to grapefruits to tortillas, researchers worldwide are giving common foods a more nutritious makeover by removing unhealthy substances and adding or enhancing those that may help fight diseases such as cancer and heart disease, according to an article scheduled for the June 23 issue of Chemical & Engineering News. Some of these products could soon appear at a grocery store near you.

In the C&EN cover story, Associate Editor Rachel Petkewich points out that, amid growing consumer interest in leading a healthier lifestyle, scientists are identifying an increasing number of disease-fighting substances in foods and using them to enhance food crops. As evidence for this skyrocketing interest in healthier foods, the article notes that the number of published papers exploring the disease-fighting properties of food components has quintupled since 2003. Scientists have already developed carrots with super-high antioxidant levels. Other foods designed to target cancer, high cholesterol, and other health conditions may soon be on the way.

But creating healthier foods that are still appealing to consumer taste can be tricky, as changing certain food components makes flavor and texture unappetizing. Scientists are now working on creating substances that can boost nutrition without loosing the qualities consumers find appealing.

Chemical & Engineering News: "Devising Healthier Foods".


Lake sediments help scientists trace 7,000 years of mining, metal use in China

Scientists used core sediments from China's Liangzhi Lake to track use of metals over several thousand years.

Image by Xiangdong Li

A new geochemical study illuminates 7,000 years of mining and metal use in central China and links these trends to fluctuations in airborne pollution during the Bronze Age and other military and industrial periods in Chinese history. The study, which could help scientists better assess the accumulative environmental effects of human activity in the region since prehistory times, is scheduled for the July 1 issue of the ACS' Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

Using carbon-dated core sediments taken from Liangzhi Lake in Hubei province, Xiang-Dong Li and colleagues were able to track metal deposit trends at the lake dating back to 5,000 B. C. Liangzhi Lake, located in an important region in the development of Chinese civilization, is relatively undistributed by local wastewater discharges and is therefore an ideal site to study ecological changes and the effects of past human activity, the scientists say.

Beginning in about 3,000 B.C. concentrations of copper, nickel, lead and zinc in the sediments began to rise, indicating the onset of Bronze Age in ancient China, the researchers found. In the late Bronze Age (475 B.C. to 220 A.D.), an era corresponding with numerous wars, sediment concentrations of copper increased 36 percent and lead by 82 percent. Copper and lead were used extensively to make bronze tools and weapons. The sediments suggest mining and metal usage in the region continued to wax and wane into the modern era, reflecting the environmental changes influenced by past human activity. - DMD

Environmental Science & Technology: "Seven Thousand Years of Records on the Mining and Utilization of Metals From Lake Sediments in Central China".


Coffee's aroma kick-starts genes in the brain

Scientists report that the simple inhalation of coffee by rats has changed their gene expressions in ways that help reduce sleep deprivation-induced stress.

Credit: public-domain-photos.com

Drink coffee to send a wake-up call to the brain? Or just smell its rich, warm aroma? An international group of scientists is reporting some of the first evidence that simply inhaling coffee aroma alters the activity of genes in the brain. In experiments with laboratory rats, they found that coffee aroma orchestrates the expression of more than a dozen genes and some changes in protein expressions, in ways that help reduce the stress of sleep deprivation. Their study is scheduled for the June 25 issue of ACS' bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Han-Seok Seo and colleagues point out that hundreds of studies have been done on the ingredients in coffee, including substances linked to beneficial health effects. "There are few studies that deal with the beneficial effects of coffee aroma," they note. "This study is the first effort to elucidate the effects of coffee bean aroma on the sleep deprivation-induced stress in the rat brain."

In an effort to begin filling that gap, they allowed lab rats to inhale coffee aroma, including some rats stressed by sleep deprivation. The study then compared gene and protein expressions in the rats' brains. Rats that sniffed coffee showed different levels of activity in 17 genes. Thirteen of the genes showed differential mRNA expression between the stress group and the stress with coffee group, including proteins with healthful antioxidant activity known to protect nerve cells from stress-related damage. - MTS

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Effects of Coffee Bean Aroma on the Rat Brain Stressed by Sleep Deprivation: A Selected Transcript- and 2D Gel-Based Proteome Analysis".


Natural plant materials to regulate starch digestion

Researchers in Switzerland are reporting discovery of natural plant materials that may regulate starch digestion - slowing down the body's conversion of potatoes, rice, and other carbohydrate-rich foods into sugar. The findings could lead to new functional foods that fight diabetes, they say in a report scheduled for the June 26 issue of the ACS' bi-weekly Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

In the new study, Elena Lo Piparo and colleagues explain that a key digestive protein called alpha-amylase rapidly converts certain high-carb foods into glucose or blood sugar. That fast conversion results in sudden spikes in blood sugar in patients with diabetes. A common clinical strategy to manage sharp rises in blood glucose after eating is the use of pharmaceutical agents that inhibit specific starch-splitting enzymes. Although researchers have known for years that some natural foods appear to contain chemicals capable of blocking alpha-amylase, the exact structure and mechanism of action of these substances remained unknown.

The researchers at Nestl� Research Center were interested in finding natural food-based compounds that can modulate this process, and to further understand the molecular mechanisms through which this interaction occurs. Using molecular modeling techniques they selected 19 plant components, called flavonoids, to be tested for their ability to block alpha-amylase activity. They identified 7 flavonoids with significant inhibition of alpha-amylase, the strongest of which inhibited activity by 99 percent. Knowledge gained from this study will lead to a better understanding about food-based compounds and their natural properties, to help the research and development of products with a positive impact on health and wellness. - MTS

Journal of Medicinal Chemistry: "Flavonoids for Controlling Starch Digestion: Structural Requirements for Inhibiting Human Alpha-Amylase".


Coats of cellulose from bacteria yield greener, stronger natural composites

Researchers report a new method of depositing bacterial cellulose on plant fibers to enhance durability and strength of composite materials.

Image by The American Chemical Society

Researchers in the United Kingdom report the first use of bacteria to deposit sticky coatings of cellulose on the surfaces of plant fibers, a process that may expand the use of natural fibers in renewable plastic composites used as strong, lightweight materials for cars, airplanes, and other products. The coated fibers provide strength and will make composites more durable without affecting their biodegradability. They are more suitable for recycling (or compositing) than commonly used petroleum-based composites, the researchers say. Their study is scheduled for the June issue of ACS' Biomacromolecules, a monthly journal.

In the new study, Alexander Bismarck and colleagues point out that synthetic composite materials now in use are made from nonrenewable, petroleum sources which are becoming more expensive. These materials not only are difficult to break down, they also create environmental hazards when disposed. Existing composites made from natural fibers show poor adhesion qualities and must be strengthened by using other synthetic coupling agents, some of which are toxic, the researchers note.

The researchers coated hemp and sisal fibers with nano-sized particles of bacterial cellulose through a special fermentation process. The coated sisal fibers showed much better adhesion properties than the original fibers without losing their mechanical properties, ideal properties for their use in composites, the researchers say. The modified hemp fibers also had improved adhesion properties but showed a loss of strength, they note. - MTS

Biomacromolecules: "Surface Modification of Natural Fibers Using Bacteria: Depositing Bacterial Cellulose onto Natural Fibers To Create Hierarchical Fiber Reinforced Nanocomposites".


Increasingly potent drug ingredients offer growing market as manufacturers address worker safety

To develop improved drugs for fighting cancer and other diseases, pharmaceutical researchers are finding increasingly potent drug ingredients that will allow smaller doses while causing fewer side effects, according to an article scheduled for the June 16 issue of Chemical & Engineering News. This development has also spawned efforts by pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturers to increase production, while assuring the safety of workers in their plants who might be exposed to these powerful new chemicals.

In the C&EN cover story, Senior Correspondent Ann Thayer points out that these powerful agents are part of the rapidly expanding anticancer drug market, which racks up $48 billion in sales each year and is growing at twice the rate of the overall pharmaceutical market. These substances include targeted drugs, which zero in on disease tissues and cells rather than exposing the entire body to any harmful effects.

The growth in demand for these potent drug ingredients is contributing to an increase in the number of manufacturers that specialize in making them. As a result, pharmaceutical manufacturers are building new facilities that can operate at higher and safer levels of containment and are adding specialized equipment to protect workers from exposure to these potent materials, the article notes.

Chemical & Engineering News: "Contained Chemistry".


"Super paper:" New nanopaper more break-resistant than cast iron

Cellulose nanopaper

Scientists report development of cellulose nanopaper, a superstrong material that could be used in the construction industry. Above is a cross-section of a fracture surface of a cellulose nanofibril film.

Image by the American Chemical Society

Researchers in Sweden and Japan report development of a new type of paper that resists breaking when pulled almost as well as cast iron. The new material, called "cellulose nanopaper," is made of sub-microscopic particles of cellulose and may open the way for expanded use of paper as a construction material and in other applications, they suggest. Their study is scheduled for the June 9 issue of ACS' Biomacromolecules, a monthly journal.

In the new study, Lars A. Berglund and colleagues note that cellulose - a tough, widely available substance obtained from plants - has potential as a strong, lightweight ingredient in composites and other materials in a wide range of products. Although cellulose-based composites have high strength, existing materials are brittle and snap easily when pulled.

The study described a solution to this problem. It involves exposing wood pulp to certain chemicals to produce cellulose nanopaper. Their study found that its tensile strength - a material's ability to resist pull before snapping - exceeded that of cast iron. They also were able to adjust the paper's strength by changing its internal structure. - MTS

Biomacromolecules: "Cellulose Nanopaper Structures of High Toughness".


Sniffing out a broad-spectrum of airborne threats in seconds

Scientists in California are reporting successful laboratory and field tests of a new device that can sniff out the faintest traces of a wide range of chemical, biological, nuclear, and explosive threats - and illicit drugs - from the air in minutes with great accuracy. The ultra-sensitive detector, known as the single-particle aerosol mass spectrometry (SPAMS) system, could tighten security at airports, sports stadiums and other large-scale facilities, according to their report, scheduled for the July 1 issue of ACS' Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.

Matthias Frank and colleagues explain that chemical, biological, nuclear, and explosive materials, as well as illicit drugs, all release minute amounts of aerosol particles into the air. Detecting these particles requires a device with a high sensitivity, low probability of false alarms, and a fast response time. "SPAMS uniquely meets these requirements in realistic field environments," the report states. While other aerosol detectors exist, SPAMS is specifically designed for the rapid detection of low-concentration aerosols, it adds.

The study describes laboratory tests of SPAMS and extended field tests at San Francisco International Airport. It showed that within seconds, SPAMS detected a diverse set of materials including simulants for potentially hazardous biological, chemical and radiological materials, as well as actual explosives and drugs. The study terms SPAMS a "significant and important advance in rapid aerosol threat detection." - AD

Analytical Chemistry: "Autonomous, Broad-Spectrum Detection of Hazardous Aerosols in Seconds".


Inhalable form of gene-therapy takes aim at lung cancer and inflammatory lung disease

A new inhalable form of gene therapy - based on technology recognized in the 2006 Nobel medicine prize, shows increasing promise for treating lung cancer, infectious diseases and inflammatory lung disease, scientists have concluded after an exhaustive review of worldwide research on the topic. Their report is scheduled for the June 2 issue of ACS' Molecular Pharmaceutics, a bi-monthly journal.

In the article, Sally-Ann Cryan, Niamh Durcan, and Charlotte Murphy focus on research efforts to develop an inhalable form of RNA interference (RNAi), a gene-therapy technique that interferes with or "silences" genes that make disease-causing proteins. The authors explain that RNAi has advantages over other gene therapies. It is potent, very specific, and appears to have a low risk of side effects.

They cite encouraging results with RNAi in laboratory studies in cells and animals with a range of lung diseases, including lung cancer, certain respiratory infections and inflammatory lung disease. Keys to successful therapy in humans include careful design of the gene-silencing agents, determining the most effective doses, and developing better ways of delivering RNAi agents to the lungs, the scientists say. - MTS

Molecular Pharmaceutics: "Inhalable siRNA: Potential as a Therapeutic Agent in the Lungs".


Researchers band together in global battle on bacterial biofilms

The discovery that bacteria are not loners, but social creatures that congregate and chemically communicate in communities - termed biofilms - has sparked a global scientific effort to control spread of these slimy coatings that grow on hospital surfaces, inside tubing, and a multitude of other places. That's the topic of an article scheduled for the June 9 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

In the C&EN cover story, Senior Editor Lisa M. Jarvis points that biofilms are the major culprit behind hospital-acquired infections that are now the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, claiming thousands of lives each year. Biofilms also cause other problems ranging from dental plaque to the biofouling of ship hulls. The films are large, complex communities of bacteria that are difficult to kill.

But researchers from academia and industry are now collaborating in a global effort to develop promising new strategies to combat this problem. New approaches include the development of non-stick surfaces and the identification of chemicals that silence bacterial communication or starve them of key nutrients. The first commercial compound to specifically target biofilms is still a few years away, according to the article.

Chemical & Engineering News: "Communal Living".


Love that garlic? Fresh may be healthier than bottled


Compared to bottled garlic, fresh garlic contains higher levels of an ingredient called allicin, which can help prevent blood clots and bacterial infections.

Image by Bruce Fritz

The next time you use garlic for its renowned antibacterial effects, consider fresh garlic instead of those bottles of chopped garlic. Researchers in Japan report that fresh garlic maintains higher levels of a key healthy ingredient than preserved versions and may be better for you. Their study is scheduled for the June 25 issue of ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

In the new study, Toyohiko Ariga and colleagues point out that allicin is one of the main active ingredients in garlic. Other studies have shown that allicin has beneficial effects in preventing blood clots, cancer, and bacterial infection. Although commercially bottled garlic is often stored in oil or water, researchers did not know how various storage and preservation methods affect levels of allicin, which is fragile and disappears quickly.

To find out, Ariga's group compared allicin levels in extracts of fresh garlic after 1-2 weeks of storage in water, alcohol, and vegetable oil. Garlic stored in water at room temperature lost about half its allicin in 6 days and garlic in vegetable oil lost half its allicin in less than an hour. The garlic lost its antibacterial action as allicin broke down. However, allicin broke down into materials that still are believed to have some anticancer and anti-blood clot effects. - MTS

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Biological and Chemical Stability of Garlic-Derived Allicin".


Lead leaching and faucet corrosion in PVC home plumbing

Plastic pipes

Plumbing systems with polyvinyl chloride plastic pipes could be more susceptible than copper pipes to leaching of lead and copper into drinking water, researchers report.

Image by Marc Edwards

Scientists in Virginia are reporting that home plumbing systems constructed with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic pipes may be more susceptible to leaching of lead and copper into drinking water than other types of piping - especially when PVC systems include brass fixtures and pipefittings. The study is scheduled for the June 15 issue of ACS� Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

Marc Edwards and colleagues point out that more water purification plants in the United States are using chloramine to treat water. At the same time, builders are plumbing more houses with plastic pipe, rather than copper, to cut costs. Past studies have found that ammonia formed in chloramine-treated water can trigger a series of events that corrode brass faucet components and connectors commonly used in PVC plumbing systems. Corrosion of brass (made with copper, zinc and lead) releases those metals into water pipes and makes faucets prone to failure.

In the new study, researchers sampled water from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), copper, lead, and other pipe material under a range of experimental conditions. They found that corrosive conditions were often worst in plastic pipes, which could be expected to cause higher metal leaching of zinc and lead from brass faucets used in homes and buildings. - AD

Environmental Science & Technology: "Nitrification in Premise Plumbing: Role of Phosphate, pH and Pipe Corrosion".


Keeping beer fresher

Researchers have identified alpha-carbonyls as important compounds that reduce beer's flavor.

Image by public-domain-photos.com