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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Oct 18 16:42:03 EDT 2006

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News Items in this Edition

A new acceleration additive for making “ice that burns”

Japanese scientists are reporting discovery of an additive that can speed up the formation of methane hydrates. Those strange substances have sparked excitement about their potential as a new energy resource and a deep freeze to store greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

Methane hydrates are literally ice that burns – frozen methane (the main component of natural gas) found in vast natural deposits beneath the seafloor in coastal areas of the United States and certain other parts of the world. When brought to the surface, hydrates pop and sizzle as they release gas and burst into flame if ignited. Known hydrate deposits 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 that could be used for research on ways to utilize these substances as a fuel. Akihiro Yamasaki and colleagues have found that addition of an additive made from beta-cyclodextrin accelerates methane hydrate formation 5-fold. Their report is scheduled for the Nov. 15 issue of the ACS bimonthly journal Energy & Fuels.

Cyclodextrins are a family of polymers produced from starch. Their wide range of uses includes the food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries. Cyclodextrin is the active ingredient in a popular home deodorizing product.

Toward better identification of substances used for doping in sports

Athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs try to get around anti-doping rules by turning to “designer steroids” – drugs that are not on the list of banned substances, and off the testers’ radar screen. In one recent high-profile case, world-class sprinters used the new steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) for months until an informant sent a sample to antidoping authorities.

John B. O. Mitchell and colleagues from the University of Cambridge are reporting development of a method for quickly identifying newly emerging designer steroids before they go into wide use in sports. Their study is scheduled for the November/December issue of the bi-monthly ACS Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling. The scientists used chemoinformatics – research based on computer and informational techniques – to classify banned drugs into groups. Drugs in each group share similar chemical and biological properties.

In practice, the approach could be used to identify new designer drugs like THG based on their similarities to existing banned substances. Anti-doping rules forbid use of drugs with a “similar chemical structure” as well as those with “similar biological effect,” an approach that Mitchell said risks disqualifying athletes unjustly. The new approach would reduce the risks of unwanted disqualifications, researchers said.

New process for making human enzyme with emerging medical uses

The antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD) has attracted popular interest as a possible way of protecting tissues from damage that occurs in several major diseases. Demand for extracellular superoxide dismutase (ECSOD), the form of SOD that exists in blood and other body fluids, may increase in the future if further research confirms its potential value.

Researchers in Taiwan now are reporting development of a method for producing large amounts of high-quality purified human ECSOD from genetically engineered yeast. “This is the first paper to express human ECSOD in P. pastoris yeast culture system,” Chuan-Mu Chen and colleagues report in the November 1 issue of the biweekly ACS Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

“The potential demand for ECSOD in human health care is great,” the scientists add. “Therefore, large-scale production of biologically active ECSOD is necessary.” Chen and colleagues note that ECSOD has been proposed for use in the prevention of cancer, reduction of toxic effects of anti-cancer drugs, and prevention of tissue damage in heart attack and stroke patients.

Antibiotic resistance genes as emerging environmental pollutants

Antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) should be considered emerging environmental contaminants with more research devoted to the mechanisms by which they spread, scientists say in a report scheduled for the Dec. 1 issue of the semi-monthly ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Colorado State University’s Amy Pruden and colleagues reached that conclusion after a study that documented occurrence of tetracycline and sulfonamide ARGs in irrigation ditches, river sediments, and other spots in the environment in northern Colorado. They detected tetracycline resistance genes in treated drinking water, suggesting that it may be a pathway for spread of ARGs to humans.

ARGs are pieces of DNA that make bacteria resistant to common antibiotics ― recognized as an increasingly serious global health problem. The genes can spread in different ways. Bacteria, for instance, exchange ARGs among themselves. Pruden and colleagues note that even if cells carrying ARGs have been killed, DNA released to the environment can persist and spread to other cells. "ARGs in and of themselves can be considered to be emerging 'contaminants' for which mitigation strategies are needed to prevent their widespread dissemination," they state.

Chemists decode bacterial ‘conversations’ in effort to block deadly infections

Eavesdropping can sometimes be a good thing. Researchers are learning how to listen to a wide range of bacterial conversations — the chemical signals bacteria use to communicate with each other — in an effort to design new compounds to thwart deadly infections, particularly those involved in the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, according to an article scheduled for the Oct. 23 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN associate editor Sarah Everts shows that researchers have made significant strides in decoding bacterial conversations, also known as quorum sensing, a phenomenon first discovered in the 1970s by a group of biologists who were exploring bioluminescent bacteria found in squid. By the 1990s, the concept of bacterial conversations had stimulated new research efforts after the process was observed in other species of bacteria, particularly pathogenic species, Everts notes.

Today, chemists are designing new compounds to mute these chemical conversations in an effort to stop the growth of E. coli, Staphylococcus, anthrax and infections that affect the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. Researchers also have identified compounds that can potentially silence pesky biofilms, slimy envelopes of carbohydrates that bacteria produce to defend themselves from attack. These biofilms threaten medical implants, fuel tanks in jet planes and even dental health, Everts notes in the article. While scientists still do not know all of the secrets behind bacterial conversations, they are moving closer toward stopping some of bacteria’s most harmful effects, according to the article.

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