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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: October 03, 2007
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News Items in this Edition
Scientists are reporting an advance towards tapping the immense potential of 'hairy roots' as natural factories to produce medicines, food flavorings and other commercial products. Their study is scheduled for the November/December issue of ACS' Biotechnology Progress, a bi-monthly journal.
The new research makes use of structures formed by a common soil bacterium that infects plants and incorporates its own DNA into the plant's genome. By inserting a specific gene into the bacterium, researchers can integrate that gene into the host's DNA. Eventually, the host plant develops a system of fuzzy roots near the site of the infection. These so-called 'hairy roots' can be grown in cell cultures that churn out the product of the inserted gene -- a natural-product based or a protein-based drug, for instance -- with a stability and productivity not possible with most other plant cell cultures.
In the new study, Ka-Yiu San and colleagues point out that scientists have long wanted to harness the production prowess of hairy roots for industry, but first needed to determine the long-term stability of genetically-altered roots.
They report maintaining growth of a transgenic hairy root culture for more than 4.5 years. At the outset, they infected a species of periwinkle with a hairy root bacterium carrying a gene encoding a fluorescent protein. Through this process they were able to generate transgenic hairy roots that contain the fluorescent protein. By transferring root tips into fresh liquid every four weeks, the researchers created a root culture that was genetically stable throughout that period, glowing appropriately in response to a special chemical signal. The integrated DNA also remained unaltered throughout the experiment. "This observation has important implications for the use of hairy root cultures in industrial applications," the report states.
Targeting sugars may revolutionize treatment of bone disorders
Researchers in the United Kingdom and Germany are reporting that one of the most fundamental scientific beliefs about the structure of human bone is incomplete -- a finding they say could have sweeping impact on treatments for osteoporosis and other bone disorders. Their study, scheduled for the Oct. 16 issue of ACS' Chemistry of Materials, a bi-weekly journal, concludes that sugars, not proteins, are key organic building blocks that account for bone's toughness and stiffness.
The University of Cambridge's David G. Reid and Melinda Duer and Christian Jaeger at and Federal Institute of Materials Research and Testing in Berlin, explain that scientists have long held that collagen and other proteins were the main organic molecules responsible for stabilizing normal bone structure. That belief has been the basis for existing medications for bone disorders, and bone replacement materials. At the same time, researchers paid little attention to roles of sugars (carbohydrates) in the complex process of bone growth.
In the new report, researchers describe experiments on mineralization in horse bones using an analysis tool called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). They found that sugars, particularly proteoglycans and glycosaminoglycans, appear to play a larger role than proteins in controlling the bone mineralization process and may be a key to maintaining healthy bones.
"This could exert a major impact on the pharmacological management of bone disorders by directing novel therapeutic approaches, as it suggests new molecular targets for drug discovery," the report states. "It also offers new disease biomarkers for diagnosis."
Researchers in Finland are reporting successful use of an unlikely fertilizer for farm fields that is inexpensive, abundantly available, and undeniably organic -- human urine. Their report on use of urine to fertilize cabbage crops is scheduled for the Oct. 31 issue of ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.
Despite the 'yuk!' factor, urine from healthy individuals is virtually sterile, free of bacteria or viruses. Naturally rich in nitrogen and other nutrients, urine has been used as fertilizer since ancient times. Urine fertilization is rare today. However, it has gained attention in some areas as farmers embrace organic production methods and try to reduce use of synthetic fertilizers.
In the new study, Surendra K. Pradhan and colleagues collected human urine from private homes and used it to fertilize cabbage crops. Then they compared the urine-fertilized crops with those grown with conventional industrial fertilizer and no fertilizer. The analysis showed that growth and biomass were slightly higher with urine than with conventional fertilizer. There was no difference in nutritional value of the cabbage. "Our results show that human urine could be used as a fertilizer for cabbage and does not pose any significant hygienic threats or leave any distinctive flavor in food products," the report concludes.
In a finding that could shrink the massive carbon footprint of cars worldwide, a New York scientist has proposed an industrial technology that captures CO2 directly from the atmosphere. The study is scheduled to appear in the Nov. 1 issue of ACS' Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.
Current Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies focus on large, stationary sources like power plants. But even if the capture sites were at full deployment and efficiency, "more than 50 percent of global emissions would remain unabated," writes the author. The remaining emissions, often from dispersed and mobile sources, require other mitigation techniques. According to the author, "atmospheric CO2 emissions may double this century." These CO2 forecasts lend urgency to the search for a more comprehensive carbon capture system.
Frank Zeman addresses the ambient emissions with a new 'Air Capture' system that absorbs CO2 straight from the atmosphere. While it provides a very different approach to carbon capture, the CO2 storage technologies would be the same used in conventional CCS. The leading challenge of air capture technology arises from the low concentration of ambient CO2 -- 4,697 cubic feet of ambient air must be processed to capture about 2 ounces of carbon dioxide! Zeman proposes a number of solutions, including a design that uses natural drafts to absorb vast amounts of air at little to no energy cost. The comprehensive devices could be installed anywhere, writes the author, and would trap and store carbon as efficiently as current capture technologies.
The fjords and arctic waters of Norway have become a 'liquid goldmine' for prospecting for the next blockbuster drugs for cancer, AIDS, and other ills, according to an article scheduled for the Oct. 8 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine. In the article, C&EN associate editor Lisa M. Jarvis points out that Norway may not seem like the most logical place to look for compounds that may become best-selling new drugs. However, researchers believe that the rich diversity of marine life in Norway's waters represents what could amount to a previously unexplored pharmaceutical goldmine.
Scientists long have searched the world's oceans for new drug candidates. However, the quest has focused mainly on tropical waters. Part of Norway's promise, Jarvis explains, is due to a unique circulation pattern that mixes cold water from the Arctic with the warmer water of the Gulf Stream. That environment nurtures a rich and unique diversity of fish, invertebrates, algae and other organisms that may harbor medicinally or technologically intriguing natural chemicals. There are no guarantees of success, but the potential payoffs are enough that government, academic and industrial scientists are teaming up for the search, the article notes.
"Given their motivation, Norway's biotechnological promise may be limited only by the speed with which they can mine the country's icy waters," Jarvis writes.
- Science Elements: New ACS 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.
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- Press releases and more from ACS' 234th national meeting Aug. 19-23, 2007
A treasure trove of news sources, background material and story ideas is available from the ACS' latest National Meeting. Reporters can view press releases, search an archive with abstracts of 9,500 scientific presentations and 1,000 non-technical summaries of those presentations, and access other resources at:
- ACS’ Latest Annual Report
The 2006 ACS annual report, A New Vision at Work, can be a valuable resource for journalists trying to keep pace with chemistry and the multiple fields of science that involve chemistry. The report features a series of commentaries by chemists, including Nobel Laureate Robert H. Grubbs, on chemistry’s role in working toward better medications, more nutritious food, sources of renewable energy, and other innovations. The newly published report is available for reading and downloading at http://www.acs.org/annualreport.
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