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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: May 08, 2006

News Items in This Edition

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News Items in this Edition

USDA Reports Decreased Consumption of Key Nutrients

People in the United States consume dramatically smaller amounts of a class of healthful plant nutrients than previously believed, researchers report in a study scheduled for the May 31 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The nutrients, anthocyanins (ACNs), are pigments responsible for the blue, purple and red colors of blueberries, plums, cherries and other fruits.

Previous estimates suggested that the average person consumed up to 185-215 milligrams (mg) of anthocyanins per day. Although cited extensively, those figures were complied in the 1970s when analytical techniques were not as advanced and dietary patterns were different from those of today. The latest findings, done by U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers, indicate the average person consumes just 12.5 mg of ACNs per day.

Ronald L. Prior and a group of colleagues with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Arkansas screened more than 100 common foods to get accurate information on ACN content. The foods included fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, snack items and juices. The researchers used that data and current food consumption figures from the 2001-002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in developing the new estimate.

The Poisons Within: A New Focus for Toxicology

Every Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) fan knows that toxicology is the science of poisons. Real sophisticates may even know one of toxicology’s bedrock axioms: “It’s the dose that makes the poison.” Any substance — even water — can be a poison in high enough amounts.

Toxicology traditionally focuses mainly on potential poisons outside the body, such as environmental and workplace pollutants, drugs, personal care products, contaminants in food and natural substances in plants. In identifying those threats, toxicologists have saved countless lives.

A commentary scheduled for the May 15 issue of the ACS journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology, calls for a redefinition of the science and an updating of toxicology’s mission in modern biomedical research. “The focus on substances outside the human body casts toxicology as an auxiliary discipline to the mainstream of biomedical research,” said the author, Daniel C. Liebler, of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Liebler suggests two toxicological tweaks. One involves expanding the scope of toxicology to explore the actions of toxic substances produced inside the body. In its other new role, toxicology would focus on how these inside-the-body poisons cause diseases not necessarily associated with chemical exposures. “The most important consequence of this redefinition is to bring the strengths of toxicology squarely to bear on some of the most important problems in human disease,” Liebler added.

Electrifying Sewage

Wastewater from toilets could do more than go just down the drain. It could become a new renewable source of electricity. Bacteria like those in wastewater naturally produce electrons as they decompose organic material; and electricity is nothing more than flowing electrons. There already are microbial fuel cells (MFCs), which produce minute amounts of electric current by exploiting electron-producing chemical reactions inside bacteria.

The challenge is to make practical MFCs that produce enough electricity to power devices in the real world. A report scheduled for the May 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology now provides researchers with reassurance that practical MFCs are possible. The study was done by Willy Verstraete and colleagues, of the Laboratory of Microbial Ecology and Technology at Ghent University in Belgium.

Researchers had hoped to get higher voltage or more current by connecting multiple MFCs together, much like batteries stacked inside a flashlight. However, they faced uncertainties about how stacking MFCs might affect the electricity-producing microbial populations inside each fuel cell.

Verstraete’s research focused on how stacking of MFCs and the evolution of the microbial communities inside the MFCs influenced the electric output. “This is the first report that relates the evolution of the electrochemical and microbial features of MFCs,” he noted.

Cleaner Gas Flaring for the Energy and Petrochemical Industries

The energy and petrochemical industries eliminate unwanted combustible gases by flaring and burning in the atmosphere. Flaring actually consumes waste gases safely, reliably and efficiently — avoiding the substantially higher hydrocarbon emissions that would result from simply venting the gases.

To the public, however, those flames often are a symbol of pollution. Environmental regulations also limit the length of time that a flare can smoke. Industry has responded by injecting steam and air into the flares to reduce or eliminate smoking. Too much steam or air can be counterproductive, resulting in large emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are key ingredients in formation of smog and other air pollution problems.

Although steam injection has been used for years, there is uncertainty over the exact amounts of steam that strike the best balance between smoke suppression and VOC release. Thomas F. Edgar and David Castineria at the University of Texas at Austin are helping to fill that knowledge gap by reporting combustion efficiency figures for various steam/air/fuel combinations using a special model. Their report, scheduled for publication in the May 17 issue of Energy and Fuels, may help make smoke suppression in industrial flares more environmentally friendly.

Summer’s Medical Milestone: Insulin without the Injection

A milestone in medical history is approaching as “insulin-without-the-injection” hits pharmacy shelves around the country this summer. Approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration in January, Exubera® is the first form of insulin that can be inhaled. It’s the answer to an 85-year-old quest for a more convenient way of administering the hormone, taken by millions of people with diabetes.

An article by Linda Wang in the May 8 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) previews Exubera’s debut and describes the daunting challenges that researchers overcame to bring the drug to market.

“It’s an historic event,” C&EN quotes Tarun K. Mandal, a professor of pharmaceutics at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. Mandal predicts that inhalation insulin will not only offer people with diabetes more options to control their disease, but also may pave the way for other inhalation drugs.

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232nd National Meeting

Mark your calendars now for the 232nd National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, which will be held September 10-14 in San Francisco, Calif. With almost 12,000 presentations anticipated, “Chemistry 2006 San Francisco” will be one of the year's largest and most influential scientific meetings. The ACS News Service is updating its national meeting press arrangements to assure that reporters can access this rich news event both from the meeting site in the beautiful Bay Area and remotely from their offices. Bookmark the meeting website for future reference:

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