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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Sep 27 16:42:03 EDT 2006

News Items in This Edition

Journalists’ Resources

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News Items in this Edition

Simple, sensitive new way to detect activity of destructive enzymes

Scientists in the United States are reporting discovery of a much-needed new method to identify the activity of destructive enzymes that have been linked to a range of diseases. The enzymes are termed matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), because they break down protein and have a metal such as zinc or calcium in their structure.

"MMPs have been implicated in a variety of disease states, including arthritis, periodontal disease, and tumor cell invasion and metastasis," Yuehe Lin and colleagues note in a report published in the current (Sep 27) issue of the weekly Journal of the American Chemical Society. With MMPs offering an opportunity for diagnosis and monitoring the effectiveness of treatment, several tests for the enzymes have been developed. Those tests, however, have drawbacks, including inability to identify specific MMPs that are active in specific diseases or require complicated detection schemes.

In the report, researchers describe the new test as simple and sensitive. It involves use of an electrochemical "beacon" that signals "on" or "off" when MMPs are active in a sample of tissue or body fluid. The beacons can be configured to signal when specific MMPs are active, including enzymes associated with certain infectious diseases.

Alternative energy: A new way to take a bite of sunlight

Flash those pearly whites in a dazzling smile and you showcase a natural light collector mechanism hidden inside the internal structure of dentin ― the hard, bone-like material that forms the main part of teeth. Scientists in Germany are reporting that the photonic crystal structure of dentin was their inspiration to propose a new method for harvesting sunlight to produce electricity.

Andrei P. Sommer and Michael Gente say tooth structure bears similarities to photonic crystals, which allow certain wavelengths to enter their internal structure, but block others. Applications of the effect include harvesting sunlight for photovoltaic cells.

"The light-collector mechanism in dentin could serve as a model for the design of solar concentrator arrays," the researchers write in their paper, published in the current (September/October) edition of the bimonthly ACS journal Energy & Fuels. "Arrays of tooth-like structures mounted on silicon permit collection of sunlight virtually independent of the angle of incidence of the sun, which could be vital, for instance, in Antarctica."

An ancient hair dye based on modern nanotechnology

A hair dye developed 2,000 years ago relied on nanotechnology to change the graying hair of people in ancient Greece and Rome into a youthful black color, scientists in France report.

Philippe Walter and colleagues studied a hair-dyeing recipe first described in Greco-Roman times, which is the basis of modern hair dyes that gradually darken gray or white hair. Their research, published in the current (September) issue of the monthly ACS journal Nano Letters, found that the dye works by causing formation of nanocrystals of lead sulfide. That chemical compound forms inside hair shafts and colors hair black without damaging the hair.

The lead sulfide crystals look much like the lead sulfide quantum dots synthesized recently using techniques from materials science, they state. “In contrast to modern nanotechnology, the dyeing process is characterized by basic chemistry methods and has been developed more than 2,000 years ago with low-cost natural products,” the scientists report.

Biofuel production is economical even when importing the raw materials

Liquid fuels can be produced economically from biomass right now even if all the raw materials ― such as grasses and wood ― must be imported from other countries. Robin Zwart and colleagues in The Netherlands reach that conclusion in a study in the current (September/October) issue of the bimonthly ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

In their study, the researchers focus on the so-called biomass-to-liquids (BtL) route, one of the most promising biomass fuels options. BtL involves first converting biomass into a gas and then using a commercially available chemical process to convert the gas into liquid fuels that could power motor vehicles. The study assumes that the final liquid fuel production facility is in the European Union, where biomass raw materials would have to be imported after pretreatment at the place of origin.

It concludes that high-quality liquid fuels could be produced from imported biomass for about $2.60 per gallon. The process would be economically feasible and capable of competing with conventional fuels, with crude oil prices of about $60 per barrel, the researchers state.

New “Dead Zone” study may have far-ranging effects on Midwest agriculture

A new scientific review of the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone” could have far-ranging implications for farming over millions of acres of the Midwest and for fertilizer sales, according to an article scheduled for the Oct. 2 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, the ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

The Dead Zone is a vast expanse of water off the Gulf’s northern shore that becomes depleted in oxygen from spring to early autumn each year. C&EN senior editor Cheryl Hogue explains that oxygen depletion creates a biological dead zone, where fish and other marine creatures cannot survive. The Dead Zone has been growing in size since the 1980s. In recent years it has involved an area larger than the state of Connecticut.

Excessive amounts of plant nutrients ― primarily nitrate fertilizer that runs off agricultural land into the Mississippi River ― causes the zone by fostering blooms of phytoplankton that die and decay in a process that removes dissolved oxygen from the Gulf waters.

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) just began the review, which will focus on the causes and other technical issues. SAB’s findings may figure heavily in the recommendations of a combined federal and state task force that is revising a 2001 action plan to reduce and control oxygen depletion in the Gulf, Hogue reports.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Audio of ACS Press Conferences
    These audio files are recordings of press conferences from the ACS National Meeting (Sep 10-14) in San Francisco. They are a valuable source for quotations and background.

Press Conference Title | Date | Time

Progress on fighting bacterial infections; biohazards | Sep 11, 2006 | 10:00 a.m. PT

Nanotubes show help with range of illnesses | Sep 11, 2006 | 12:00 p.m. PT

Low cost, super-efficient solar cells developed | Sep 12, 2006 | 12:00 p.m. PT

Promising therapies with adult stem cells | Sep 13, 2006 | 10:00 a.m. PT

  • ACS News Service Weblog
    Science, September & San Francisco
    Visit the ACS News Service’s newest Weblog for reports from scientific sessions and other events at the ACS National Meeting in San Francisco.

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