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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: December 19, 2007

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The American Chemical Society (ACS) News Service Weekly press package (PressPac) offers information on reports selected from 36 major peer-reviewed journals and Chemical & Engineering News.

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News Items in this Edition

Toward an urgently needed antidote for cyanide poisoning disasters

Citing an “alarming” lack of preparedness for terrorist attacks or other incidents involving release of cyanide, researchers in Minnesota are announcing development of potential new antidotes for the deadly poison that can be taken by mouth rather than injection. The study is scheduled for the Dec. 27 issue of ACS’ Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

In the study, Herbert Nagasawa and colleagues explain that existing antidotes for cyanide poisoning require a series of intravenous drug injections, making them cumbersome and difficult to administer in incidents in which hundreds or thousands of people are exposed. The nation thus faces an “urgent need” for a fast-acting, easy-to-use treatment that can be administered on a large scale, the researchers say. The new compounds, chemically modified versions of 3-mercaptopyruvate, change cyanide into a nontoxic substance. When given orally to laboratory mice prior to cyanide exposure, the compounds prevented poisoning, they add.

An oral drug that prevents cyanide poisoning is “highly desirable for firefighters and other rescue workers responding to industrial and residential fires where the presence of cyanide in the smoke is life-threatening,” the study states. “The new compounds can be produced in quantity for wide distribution to public health agencies for stockpiling to protect the populace in the event of a major cyanide disaster resulting from an industrial accident or terrorist activity,” the study adds. — MTS

Culinary shocker: Cooking can preserve, boost nutrient content of vegetables

In a finding that defies conventional culinary wisdom, researchers in Italy report that cooking vegetables can preserve or even boost their nutritional value in comparison to their raw counterparts, depending on the cooking method used. Their study is scheduled for the Dec. 26 issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

Nicoletta Pellegrini and colleagues note that although many people maintain that eating raw vegetables is more nutritious than eating cooked ones, a small but growing number of studies suggest that cooking may actually increase the release of some nutrients. However, scientists are seeking more complete data on the nutritional properties of cooked vegetables, the researchers say.

In the new study, the researchers evaluated the effects of three commonly-used Italian cooking practices — boiling, steaming, and frying — on the nutritional content of carrots, zucchini and broccoli. Boiling and steaming maintained the antioxidant compounds of the vegetables, whereas frying caused a significantly higher loss of antioxidants in comparison to the water-based cooking methods, they say. For broccoli, steaming actually increased its content of glucosinolates, a group of plant compounds touted for their cancer-fighting abilities. The findings suggest that it may be possible to select a cooking method for each vegetable that can best preserve or improve its nutritional quality, the researchers say. — MTS

New report challenges idea that snuff is a “safer” substitute for cigarettes

A 20-year review of scientific research on tobacco and cancer challenges the idea that moist snuff — increasingly popular in the United States — can be a safer substitute for cigarette smoking. The review, by Stephen S. Hecht, is scheduled for the Jan. 1 issue of ACS’ Chemical Research in Toxicology.

The paper, which covers the broad range of research on cancer induced by tobacco, points out that smokeless tobacco, a known cause of oral cancer, is contaminated with levels of cancer-causing nitrosamines that are generally 1,000 times greater than those found in any other consumer product. Despite health warning labels on packages of smokeless tobacco and a ban on electronic advertising, sales of snuff have continued to increase, the paper states.

“In the past several years, a new concept has emerged,” the paper notes. “Responsible members of the tobacco control community support the idea of using ‘low nitrosamine’ moist snuff as a substitute for cigarette smoking. The rationale for this is that moist snuff is demonstrably less carcinogenic in humans, and less toxic in other ways, because it lacks the combustion products.” However, moist snuff products still contain significant levels of carcinogens, and users should stop, perhaps via use of nicotine replacement therapy, rather than switch from one risky product to another, the paper advises. — JS

Toward improved non-stick surfaces at the flip of a switch

Researchers in New Jersey report development of a new type of non-stick material whose ability to shed liquids like water from a duck’s back can be turned on or off simply by flipping an electrical switch. The material, called “nanonails,” offers a wide-range of potential applications including contamination-resistant and self-cleaning surfaces, reduced-drag ships, and advanced electrical batteries, they say. Their study is scheduled for the Jan. 1 issue of ACS’ Langmuir, a bi-weekly publication.

For years, researchers sought to develop surfaces that repel virtually any liquid. They’ve created non-stick surfaces that repel water and certain other liquids, but have had little success with repelling common organic liquids such as oils, solvents and detergents. Tom N. Krupenkin and colleagues report that their “nanonails” have all-purpose repellency properties. The nails actually are submicroscopic silicon structures shaped like carpenter’s nails that dramatically enhance a surface’s repellency. However, the surface becomes highly wettable when electricity is applied, allowing liquid to be sucked between the nails. In laboratory demonstrations, the researchers showed that their electronic non-stick surface works effectively using virtually any liquid.

“Nanonails” also show promise for enhancing chemical microreactions, decreasing flow resistance, and facilitating liquid movement for medical diagnostic applications such as lab-on-a-chip technology, they say. — MTS

World’s only ultrafast electron microscope takes 4-D “movies” of molecules

A unique electron microscope that can help create four-dimensional “movies” of molecules may hold the answers to research questions in a number of fields including chemistry, biology, and physics, according to an article scheduled for the Dec. 24 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN Associate Editor Rachel Petkewich notes that the microscope, located at the California Institute of Technology, is a modified transmission electron microscope interfaced with an ultrafast laser. The ultrafast microscope is the only one capable of capturing four-dimensional pictures of molecules — 3-D structural changes over time — as they form and break apart, the writer states. These reactions occur at extremely fast rates — one billionth of one millionth of a second, or a “femtosecond” — that can’t be seen directly in real-time by other instruments. In 1999, Caltech chemist Ahmed H. Zewail, the lead scientist on the new work, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering studies of these ultrafast reactions.

Zewail and his colleagues are now making refinements to their ultrafast microscope and plan to capture a wider variety of images, including the details of whole cells, the writer notes. Caltech is negotiating an agreement with a microscope manufacturer to commercialize the instrument and make it available to other scientists, according to the article.

For Wired Readers

  • 12 Days of Holiday Podcasts

The American Chemical Society (ACS) Office of Communications is posting a Santa’s sack of gifts for the entertainment and enlightenment of users of iPods and other portable digital audio players. Called “The 12 Days of Holiday Podcasts,” these audio snippets focus on chemistry’s lighter-hearted connections to the holiday season and are based on research from ACS’ suite of 36 peer-reviewed scientific journals. They will be posted daily between Dec. 12 and Dec. 24. The holiday podcasts are part of Science Elements.

  • Bytesize Science, a 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. Bytesize Science is now listed as a “new and notable” podcast on iTunes. It is also being recommended by “Podcasting in Education,” an organization that encourages educators to embrace podcasts as a classroom tool. The archive includes items on environmental threats to killer whales, a scientific explanation for why some people love chocolate, the possible medical uses of an intriguing substance known as “dragon’s blood,” 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.
  • to Bytesize Science in iTunes
  • iTunes? No problem. Listen to latest episodes of Bytesize Science in your web browser
  • Science Elements: An ACS Science News Podcast
    The ACS Office of Communications is podcasting PressPac contents in order to make cutting-edge scientific discoveries from ACS journals available to a broad public audience at no charge. Science Elements includes selected content from ACS’s prestigious suite of 36 peer-reviewed scientific journals and Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’s weekly news magazine. Those journals, published by the world’s largest scientific society, contain about 30,000 scientific reports from scientists around the world each year. The reports include discoveries in medicine, health, nutrition, energy, the environment and other fields that span science’s horizons from astronomy to zoology. Podcaster for Science Elements is Steve Showalter, Ph.D., a chemist at the U. S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and ACS member.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Results of National Chemistry Week poster contest: A Hometown Winner?
  • American Chemical Society has selected winners from schools around the nation for its 2007 poster contest for National Chemistry Week. That program, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has taught millions of students in grades K-12 and others about chemistry’s central role in everyday life. This year’s theme, “The Many Faces of Chemistry,” emphasized chemistry’s roles in improving public health, protecting the environment, providing innovative new products, and making life longer, healthier, and happier. For names, schools, and hometowns of winners and other details, please click here or contact m_bernstein@acs.org.
  • Highlights, resources from ACS Chocolate Workshop now online
  • American Chemical Society’s workshop, 'Cooks with Chemistry —The Elements of Chocolate' provided reporters with a delectable assortment of new information on the world’s favorite treat. Held Oct. 11, 2007, at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and sponsored by the ACS Office of Communications, the chocolate workshop featured presentations from Harold McGee and Shirley Corriher, award-winning cookbook authors, and Sara Risch, the noted food and flavor chemist. With chocolate consumption nearing an annual peak as the holidays approach, we are providing content from this event to news media unable to attend the workshop. The material includes ACS journal articles about the chemistry of chocolate; advice for cooks who run into trouble with chocolate recipes; tips on how to successfully use “new” chocolates in old favorite recipes; and a fascinating comparison of the health benefits and flavor components of different kinds of chocolate. For interviews with the chocolate workshop participants or other information, please contact newsroom@acs.org.
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