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

Journalists’ Resources

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News Items in this Edition

Storing Digital Data in Living Organisms

DNA, perhaps the oldest data storage medium, could become the newest as scientists report progress toward using DNA to store text, images, music and other digital data inside the genomes of living organisms. In a report scheduled for the April 9 issue of ACS’ Biotechnology Progress, a bi-monthly journal, Masaru Tomita and colleagues in Japan point out that DNA has been attracting attention as perhaps the ultimate in permanent data storage.

Data encoded in an organism’s DNA, and inherited by each new generation, could be safely archived for hundreds of thousands of years, the researchers state. In contrast, CD-ROMs, flash memory and hard disk drives can easily fall victim to accidents or natural disasters.

In their report, the researchers describe a method for copying and pasting data, encoded as artificial DNA, into the genome of Bacillus subtilis, (B. subtilis) a common soil bacterium, “thus acquiring versatile data storage and the robustness of data inheritance.” The researchers demonstrated the method by using a strain of B. subtilis to store the message: “E=MC2 1905!” — Albert Einstein’s famous 1905 energy-mass equivalence equation.

“We suggest that this simple, flexible and robust method offers a practical solution to data storage and retrieval challenges in combination with other, previously published techniques,” the report states.

A New Process for Making Much-Sought Iron Nanospheres

Using a process that creates bubbles as hot as the surface of the sun, chemists are reporting development of a new method for making hollow hematite (iron oxide) nanospheres. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Kenneth S. Suslick and Jin Ho Bang describe the synthesis of these iron nanoparticles in a report scheduled for the Feb. 28 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.

Hollow nanospheres of metals and other inorganic materials are generating great interest because of their unusual properties and potential applications in drug delivery, electronic components, catalysts and other products. “We believe that this procedure will be easily extended to prepare other hollow inorganic materials,” the researchers note. In the past, production of hollow hematite nanospheres required a time-consuming process and use of toxic hydrofluoric acid.

The new process uses sonochemistry, in which high-frequency sound waves are focused into a solution containing an iron compound and carbon nanoparticles. Those sound waves create tiny bubbles in the liquid. The collapse of those bubbles causes intense local heating with temperatures estimated at 9,000 F, which is nearly as hot as the surface of the sun. The sonochemical process forms iron spheres around the carbon nanoparticles. On exposure to air, the iron rapidly oxidizes, which burns away the carbon core, leaving hematite spheres one thousandth the diameter of a red blood cell.

Recipe for Healthy Garlic: Crush Before Cooking

“Stop and smell the garlic — that’s all you have to do,” advised William Shatner, whose starring roles ranged from Captain Kirk in Star Trek to himself in Iron Chef USA. New scientific research is editing Shatner’s advice for the millions of people seeking garlic’s fabulous flavor and its reputed health benefits. Make it read: Stop and crush the garlic.

Claudio R. Galmarini and colleagues in Argentina and the United States are reporting new evidence that crushing garlic before cooking can reduce the loss of garlic’s healthful properties. In a report scheduled for the March 7 edition of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication, they note that many past studies of garlic and health used raw garlic. The new study joins a handful or others to examine how the heat of cooking affects the chemical compounds associated with garlic’s beneficial health effects.

The researchers found that even a few minutes of cooking reduces levels of those compounds. The reduction is steepest in whole garlic, and less pronounced in garlic that has been crushed before cooking. Crushing or chopping garlic releases an enzyme, alliinase, that catalyzes the formation of allicin, which then breaks down to form a variety of healthful organosulfur compounds. The researchers believe that crushing garlic before cooking may allow alliinase to work before cooking inactivates the enzyme. Their report notes that allowing crushed garlic to stand for 10 minutes before cooking may further enhance formation of those compounds before heat inactivates alliinase.

New E-Waste Recycling Technology

With megatons of obsolete personal computers, old cell phones and other waste electrical and electronic equipment piling up every year, scientists in China report development of a much-needed new recycling and recovery technology for one of the most troublesome components of e-waste — printed circuit boards (PCBs).

In a report scheduled for the Feb. 15 edition of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal, Zhenming Xu and colleagues point out that PCBs are an ideal target for recycling and reuse. PCBs are self-contained modules of interconnected electronic components formed by a thin layer of conducting material deposited, or “printed,” on the surface of an insulating board. They contain materials potentially toxic if released to the environment. However, PCBs also are a rich potential source of valuable metals and other materials that could be recovered and reused.

The researchers describe tests of their process on almost a half-ton of scrap PCBs, which showed that it is efficient and environmentally friendly. The technology involves special crushing of scrap PCBs, followed by separation of the metallic and non-metallic materials with an electric field. The technique has advantages over other methods proposed for recycling PCBs, the researchers indicate.

Unraveling a Molecular Machine’s Mysteries

Research on one of the most important molecular “machines” in living cells is giving scientists clues to the development of new antibiotics and revealing secrets about how cells use the genetic information encoded in DNA, according to an article scheduled for the Feb. 19 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN senior correspondent Stuart A. Borman explains that ribosomes translate DNA’s message, encoded on messenger RNA (mRNA), and use it to synthesize thousands of different proteins that do most of the work in biology. A ribosome can translate a limitless number of different mRNAs into proteins, just as a DVD player can translate the digital data on countless plastic discs into movies. Many cells contain hundreds of thousands of these protein factories, and some contain millions.

Borman describes fast-paced global research, which in barely a decade has transformed ribosomes from mystery structures into well-known entities that are targets for new drug development. Many antibiotics, for instance, work by interfering with the activity of ribosomes in bacteria. Ribosome research could help lead scientists to new types of antibiotics and there is at least one startup company focusing specifically on that topic, the article notes.

Journalists’ Resources

  • General Chemistry Glossary

The General Chemistry Glossary can be found here.

  • An Editor Comments on the New Climate Change Report

Jerald L. Schnoor’s editorial from the current issue of ACS’s Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

  • ACS Chemical Biology

Highlights from the American Chemical Society journal, ACS Chemical Biology, are now available on EurekAlert!, the online science news service for reporters. ACS Chemical Biology is a monthly journal exploring cellular function from both chemical and biological perspectives. In addition to research papers and reviews, the journal also publishes “Spotlight” — current research in chemical biology from other journals; “Profile” — experts in the field; and “Points of View” — comments from leading scientists. The journal’s Web site is updated weekly with new content, and features a WIKI and an “Ask the Expert” section.

Mark Your Calendars

ACS National Meeting — Chicago, March 25-29

The American Chemical Society’s 233rd national meeting promises to be one of 2007’s biggest and most productive science conferences, and a bonanza of spot news, feature topics and background for reporters covering science, medicine, energy, environment, food, business or the environment. We expect more than 9,000 scientific papers on topics spanning science’s horizons from astronomy to zoology. Visit the National Meeting page for preliminary program information, media registration and housing.

Special Event: Chicago News Media Tour/Briefing/Reception

News media are invited to a special event at the Art Institute of Chicago, scheduled during the ACS national meeting. The Art Institute, Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory are partners in a noted art conservation science program. Reporters will get briefings from program scientists and a behind-the-scenes tour of science and conservation labs, followed by a reception in the beautiful environs of the Institute. The event begins at 4 p.m. on March 26. Space is strictly limited, so register early by contacting Michael Woods at m_woods@acs.org or 202-872-6293.

The American Chemical Society — the world’s largest scientific society — is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.