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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Nov 14 15:42:03 EST 2007

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News Items in this Edition

Magnetic nanoparticles detect and remove harmful bacteria

Researchers in Ohio report the development of magnetic nanoparticles that show promise for quickly detecting and eliminating E. coli, anthrax, and other harmful bacteria. In laboratory studies, the nanoparticles helped detect a strain of E. coli within five minutes and removed 88 percent of the target bacteria, the scientists say. Their study is scheduled for the Nov. 7 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.

Xuefei Huang and colleagues point out that ongoing incidents of produce contamination and the threat of bioterrorist attacks have created an urgent need for quicker, more effective ways to detect bacterial decontamination. To meet that need, they developed a “magnetic glyco-nanoparticle (MGNP),” a unique compound that combines magnetic nanoparticles with sugars.

Sugars (or carbohydrates) on cell surfaces are used by many bacteria to attach to their host cells in order to facilitate infection. The scientists exposed a group of E. coli bacteria to the sugar-coated nano-magnets to mark the microbes so they could be easily identified and removed by a magnetic device. The researchers also used the particles to distinguish between three different E. coli strains.

The study represents “the first time that magnetic nanoparticles have been used to detect, quantify, and differentiate E. coli cells,” the researchers state.

Sweet magnolia: Tree bark extract fights bad breath and tooth decay

“Sweet magnolia” does more than describe the fragrant blossoms of a popular evergreen tree. It also applies to magnolia bark’s effects on human breath. Scientists in Illinois are reporting that breath mints made with magnolia bark extract kill most oral bacteria that cause bad breath and tooth decay within 30 minutes. The extract could be a boon for oral health when added to chewing gum and mints, they report in a study scheduled for the Nov. 14 issue of the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

Consumers often turn to flavored chewing gum and mints to battle bad breath. However, those products only temporarily mask the odor of bad breath, which is caused by bacteria. Existing anti-bacterial products for bad breath are far from ideal, with some having side effects like tooth staining.

In the new study, Minmin Tian and Michael Greenberg tested the germ-killing power of magnolia bark extract using saliva samples taken from volunteers following a regular meal. Mints containing the extract killed more than 61 percent of the germs that cause bad breath within 30 minutes, compared with only a 3.6 percent germ-kill for the same flavorless mints without the extract, the researchers say.

The extract also showed strong antibacterial activity against a group of bacteria known to cause cavities. Mints and chewing gum containing the extract may also provide a “portable oral care supplement to dentifrice (toothpaste), where brushing is not possible,” the study states.

Oceans could slurp up carbon dioxide to fight global warming

Researchers in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are proposing a new method for reducing global warming that involves building a series of water treatment plants that enhance the ability of the ocean to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. About 100 such plants — which essentially use the ocean as “a giant carbon dioxide collector” — could cause a 15 percent reduction in emissions over many years, they say. About 700 plants could offset all Co2 emissions. Their study is scheduled to appear in the Dec. 15 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

Scientists believe that excessive build-up of carbon dioxide in the air contributes to global warming. In addition to cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions by reducing the use of fossil fuels, researchers have focused on new technologies that remove the gas directly from the atmosphere.

In the new study, Kurt Zenz House and colleagues propose building hundreds of special water treatment facilities worldwide that would remove hydrochloric acid from the ocean by electrolysis and neutralize the acid through reactions with silicate minerals or rocks. The reaction increases the alkalinity of the ocean and its ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The process is similar to the natural weathering reactions that occur among silicate rocks but works at a much faster rate, the researchers say.

New database screening criteria improves identification of anticancer drugs

Scientists in Indiana and Michigan have developed a better way of mining a vast computerized database for chemical nuggets that could become tomorrow’s cancer medications. The new “data mining” method pinpoints chemical structures with drug-like activity. It could speed the identification and development of new, more effective drugs against breast, prostate, lung and other cancers, according to a report scheduled for the Nov./Dec. issue of ACS’ Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling, a bi-monthly publication.

Computers have become a mainstay in the drug discovery process and have led to the identification of dozens of promising anticancer drugs. However, as the amount and complexity of information in a chemical database increases, accurately predicting which molecules will be most effective against certain types of cancer has become more difficult.

In the new report, David J. Wild and colleagues analyzed data from the National Cancer Institute Developmental Therapeutics Program, a database of 40,000 compounds that have been tested against 60 tumor cell lines. The researchers identified a set of common structural features that can be used to more accurately predict which compounds are most active against cancer cells. In a series of experiments, they showed that applying these new criteria significantly increased the accuracy rate of identifying drug-like molecules in comparison to standard screening methods.

“Wiring up” enzymes for producing hydrogen in fuel cells

Researchers in Colorado are reporting the first successful “wiring up” of hydrogenase enzymes. Those much-heralded proteins are envisioned as stars in a future hydrogen economy where they may serve as catalysts for hydrogen production and oxidation in fuel cells. Their report, describing a successful electrical connection between a carbon nanotube and hydrogenase, is scheduled for the Nov. issue of ACS' Nano Letters, a monthly journal.

In the new study, Michael J. Heben, Paul W. King, and colleagues explain that bacterial enzymes called hydrogenases show promise as powerful catalysts for using hydrogen in fuel cells, which can produce electricity with virtually no pollution for motor vehicles, portable electronics, and other devices. However, scientists report difficulty incorporating these enzymes into electrical devices because the enzymes do not form good electrical connections with fuel cell components. Currently, precious metals, such as platinum, are typically needed to perform this catalysis.

The researchers combined hydrogenase enzymes with carbon nanotubes, submicroscopic strands of pure carbon that are excellent electrical conductors. In laboratory studies, the researchers demonstrated that a good electrical connection was established using photoluminescence spectroscopy measurements. These new “biohybrid” conjugates could reduce the cost of fuel cells by reducing or eliminating the need for platinum and other costly metal components, they say.

Toward a new generation of “greener” consumer products

Consumers will have access to medicines, cosmetics, and other products that are “greener,” less expensive, and more environmentally friendly than ever before, thanks to new manufacturing processes now under development, according to an article scheduled for the Nov. 19 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

The article, by C&EN Senior Editor Stephen K. Ritter, explains that the processes use so-called supercritical carbon dioxide, a phase of carbon dioxide with both liquid and gaseous traits and that is heralded as a nontoxic replacement for conventional manufacturing solvents. Ritter notes that while supercritical carbon dioxide shows promise for carrying out greener industrial catalytic processes, it also can provide a means for replacing inefficient chemical separations.

The new processes help reduce the use of conventional organic solvents, reduce energy consumption, and reduce the loss of costly and sometimes toxic metal catalysts. These “advances may allow for greener product separations, which typically make up the bulk of the cost of industrial processes,” Ritter states.

For Wired Readers

  • American Chemical Society debuts Bytesize Science, a new podcast for young listeners The American Chemical Society (ACS) Office of Communications has launched Bytesize Science, an educational, entertaining podcast for young listeners. Bytesize Science translates cutting-edge scientific discoveries from ACS' 36 peer-reviewed journals into stories for young listeners about science, health, medicine, energy, food, and other topics. New installments of Bytesize Science are posted every Monday and available without charge. The archive includes items on environmental threats to killer whales, a scientific explanation for why some people love chocolate, some unlikely new uses for compact discs, and a hairy tale about "hairy roots." The podcaster for Bytesize Science is Adam Dylewski, an ACS science writer and recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in genetics and science communication.
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ACS co-hosts conference on industrial biotechnology and bioenergy Nov. 14-16, 2007 in Honolulu, Hawaii Reporters are invited to register for the Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioenergy, which takes place Nov. 14-16, 2007, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort in Honolulu. The Summit will focus on latest cutting-edge developments in industrial biotechnology, including ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, bio-butanol and other advanced bioenergy production, biobased products and renewable chemicals, food ingredients, nanotechnology, and marine biotechnology and bioprospecting. The conference is co-hosted by the American Chemical Society, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), and the State of Hawaii, with support from BIOTECanada, AusBiotech, and the Chemical Institute of Canada. The theme of this year's conference is "developing partnerships and new value chains across the Pacific Rim."

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