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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: April 24, 2006
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News Items in this Edition
Millions of women buy the herb black cohosh and use this dietary supplement to treat hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Clinical trials are still relatively few in number. Some report that black cohosh helps relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, while others do not.
A new study scheduled for May 17 publication in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry reports for the first time that a significant number of black cohosh supplements sold in the United States did not contain black cohosh. Instead, these products contained a related Asian species of the plant that does not have the same chemical compounds or clinical uses as the native North American plant.
Using a new and simplified technique, the researchers analyzed 11 products marketed as black cohosh. Three contained the Asian adulterant, and one contained both genuine black cohosh and the Asian imitator. Products containing only black cohosh varied significantly in the amounts of the compounds believed to relieve menopausal symptoms.
"In the U. S., botanical dietary supplements are regulated as foods, rather than drugs," noted Edward Kennelly, Ph. D., who headed the study with Fredi Kronenberg, PhD. "The manufacturers are required to follow good manufacturing practices, so this misbranding should not occur. Unfortunately, our study shows that at least in the case of black cohosh, many manufacturers are not following the regulations. Consumers should be aware of this situation in order to make proper choices for their health care."
Concerns about terrorist activity have created the need for early warning systems that quickly and accurately detect hazardous substances in water, food and air. Chemical weapons (CW) agents, which can be used against civilian populations, are among the threats. Efforts are underway to develop fast and portable technology for detecting CW agents dispersed by terrorists.
Jack Syage and colleagues at Syagen Technology, Inc., in Tustin, Calif., are reporting development of a new screening technology for CW agents. In a report scheduled for the May 1 issue of Analytical Chemistry, they describe use of the technology (photoionization mass spectrometry) to detect VX, GA, GB, HN1 and other CW agents.
With the standard existing method for detecting CW agents (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry), it takes upwards of one hour to test each sample. That is too slow to test the large number of samples that are needed to conduct continuous screening against terrorist incidents.
Syagen’s screening technology can detect a wide range of CW and other hazardous substances in about 45 seconds. The researchers envision it as the basis for a routine, real-time early warning system for CW agents and other hazardous compounds in air and water.
Gas hydrates have generated worldwide excitement about their potential as a new energy resource and as a potential deep freeze to store greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide. Methane hydrates -- literally ice that burns – are deep deposits of frozen methane that burst into flame when brought to the surface.
Found in abundance under the seafloor in US coastal waters, among other places, gas or clathrate hydrates may hold enough natural gas to supply the world for centuries. One barrier to exploiting this treasure has been difficulty in making gas hydrates in the laboratory for research.
Yong Ba and associates at California State University in Los Angeles report an advance toward overcoming that barrier scheduled for May 17 publication in the ACS journal, Energy & Fuels. The researchers wanted to make hydrates in sealed glass tubes that can be analyzed with a mainstay laboratory tool called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).
With conventional technology, it took up to a year to make a gas hydrate in a sealed NMR tube. Ba’s new technique shortens the time to about one week. They are using the new method to make gas hydrates in order to understand the factors that control hydrates’ stability – a key consideration in engineering gas hydrates as an energy resource.
Aquaculture already supplies about one-third of the fish and shellfish sold today. Reliance on fish farming to meet public demand for this healthful source of protein will increase as the world's conventional fish catch from oceans and other sources continues to decline.
With the expansion of aquaculture has come a new awareness about the welfare of farmed fish in their final days. Martine Morzel and associates are reporting that pre-slaughter conditions on the farm can affect the texture of fish on the consumer’s plate. The group, with the French research organization INRA, report scheduled for the May 3 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Slaughter of farmed fish may involve crowding, stress, and muscle activity and produces corresponding biochemical changes in the edible fish muscle. The result can be fish with a softer and less desirable texture, for instance, or other undesirable qualities.
Morzel’s group identified a protein – desmin -- that can serve as a marker for pre-slaughter stress and the resulting undesirable changes in muscle. They did the work with proteomics, a technology often associated more with medicine than food science. Just as genomics is the study of the genome (all the genes in a cell), proteomics is the study of the proteins and their interactions.
Canavan disease is a rare but fatal inherited degenerative brain disorder. It mainly affects children of eastern and central European Jewish (Ashkenazi) descent, which includes about 90 percent of the Jews in America. About one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carries the gene for Canavan disease. If both parents are carriers, there is a 1 in 4 chance with each pregnancy that their child will have Canavan Disease. A carrier screening test is available. www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/canavan/canavan.htm
Mutations in that single gene lead to the malfunctioning of an important brain enzyme called aspartoacylase. This results in degradation of the myelin sheath that insulates the axons to allow efficient transmission of nerve impulses in the brain. Consequently, the infants carrying these mutations fail to develop, leading to blindness, lack of muscle control, mental retardation and eventually to premature death.
Ron Viola and colleagues at the University of Toledo are reporting the isolation and purification of this enzyme in the May 9 issue of Biochemistry. They now have begun to unravel how it functions. “These studies will help us to understand why aspartoacylase malfunctions in patients with this disease,” Viola said. “The long term goal of this research is to design improved forms of this enzyme that can be used as a treatment in gene replacement therapy.”
Drag-reducing polymers (DRPs) have been used to speed the flow of oil through the Alaska pipeline, make water shoot farther from firefighters' hoses and for enhanced recovery of oil from wells.
Marina V. Kameneva and associates at the University of Pittsburgh previously showed in animal studies that DRPs improved blood flow in ways that could have applications in treating impaired blood circulation in diabetes, heart attacks and other conditions. Previously tested DRPs, which included those extracted from aloe vera plants, sparked a search for better compounds suitable for biomedical use.
In a report scheduled for the May 8 issue of Biomacromolecules, Kameneva describes identification of a new DRP, called DNFV, with potential for clinical use. Researchers found that the compound, PNVF, reduces the blood's resistance to flow and remains intact longer than the most commonly used existing DRP, poly(ethylene oxide). PNVF has no known toxicity. Preliminary animal tests showed that the PNVF did not produce any adverse effects in acute experiments. However, further studies are necessary to prove PNVF as a candidate for potential biomedical applications.
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