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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: July 11, 2007

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News Items in this Edition

Red Blood Cells “Talk” To Platelets, With Implications for Diabetes

Amid growing indications the traditional image of red blood cells (RBCs) falls short of reality, chemists are reporting evidence that RBCs are key participants in a communication system among cells in the bloodstream. Messaging between RBCs and platelets (blood components that cause clotting) they say, could explain the effects of a drug suggested for use in preventing heart attacks and other complications of diabetes.

In a study scheduled for the July 13 issue of ACS’ Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal, Dana Spence and colleagues note that RBCs once were regarded mainly as oxygen carriers. Recent research, however, shows that red cells also release ATP, a molecule that is the source of energy for all life processes, as they deform while they travel through small blood vessels.

By observing blood flow through artificial blood vessels in laboratory experiments, Spence’s group now has established that the ATP signals blood platelets to produce nitric oxide (NO). That messenger molecule has a variety of functions, including dilating blood vessels. When released from platelets, NO helps regulate platelets’ activity, preventing excessive clotting. Disruption of the RBC-platelet communications system may play a role in diabetic complications such as heart disease and strokes, the researchers said. The new study also found that Trental, reported to have beneficial effects in preventing certain diabetic complications, may work by boosting ATP release from red blood cells.

Healthful Compounds in Tomatoes Increase over Time in Organic Fields

Levels of flavonoids increase over time in crops grown in organically farmed fields, according to a rare long-term study scheduled for publication in the July 18 issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication. Other research has suggested that consumption of flavonoids may protect against cancer, heart disease, and other age-related diseases.

In the new study, Alyson E. Mitchell and colleagues compared levels of key flavonoids in tomatoes harvested over a 10-year period from two matched fields — one farmed organically and the other with conventional methods that included commercial fertilizers. The research focused on tomatoes because per capita consumption in the United States is so high, second only to potatoes. Researchers analyzed organic and conventional tomatoes that had been dried and archived under identical conditions from 1994 to 2004.

“The levels of flavonoids increased over time in samples from organic treatments, whereas the levels of flavonoids did not vary significantly in conventional treatments,” their report stated. Increases corresponded with the accumulation of soil organic matter in organic plots and with reduced fertilization rates. “Well-quantified changes in tomato nutrients over years in organic farming systems have not been reported previously.”

New Process Promises To Reduce Costs of a Clean-Coal Technology

Scientists in China are reporting an advance in clean-coal technology that could substantially reduce the cost of producing clean-burning fuels from underground deposits of coal. In a study scheduled for the July 18 issue of ACS’s Energy & Fuels, a bi-monthly publication, Lanhe Yang and colleagues focus on coal gasification, a process for making gaseous fuels, similar to natural gas, from coal.

They describe 40 years of failed efforts to tap the potential of shaftless underground coal gasification, the most economical kind of underground gasification, in which laborers are not required to work below the surface to carve out chambers in which coal is converted into gas. Building those gasification galleries is expensive and has made underground coal gasification unattractive economically.

In the study, researchers report development and successful field-tests in a coal mine in Jiangsu Province of a new method that overcomes a major obstacle to shaftless underground gasification. It involves use of an improved method for “pushing through,” for igniting coal seams quickly and converting coal into gas. The study shows that the new method makes it feasible to conduct shaftless coal gasification in a more economical fashion, they report.

Preening Over New Technology for Monitoring Pcbs in Seabirds

A new noninvasive test could substantially increase scientists’ ability to monitor seabirds for contamination with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs), scientists in Japan are reporting in an article scheduled for the July 15 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

In the report, Hideshige Takada and colleagues explain that existing methods for taking samples from living birds have sharply limited efforts to monitor PCB levels. Blood sampling, for instance, requires trained personnel and subjects birds — especially chicks and small adults — to potentially fatal stress. Collection of bird droppings is noninvasive, but droppings must be refrigerated and shipped to a testing lab.

Researchers long have eyed oil secreted from the preen gland (located at the base of the tail feathers), which birds use to waterproof feathers and ward off parasites. However, data validating preen oil’s usefulness had been available for only a single species of bird. In the new study, scientists report extending that knowledge to 13 species. “This could dramatically increase the availability of seabird samples,” the study states. “The combination of this technology in ecological research with POP analysis of preen oil will increase our knowledge of the global distribution and transport of POPs, their ecological impact, and the ecology and behaviors of seabirds.”

Tin Whiskers Grow Into a Multi-Billion-Dollar Threat to Electronics Products

Wisps of tin too small to see with the unaided eye are causing mammoth, multi-billion-dollar problems for the global electronics industry and sometimes jeopardizing human lives, according to an article scheduled for the July 16 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine. Called “tin whiskers,” these needle-like outgrowths form on tin solder and coatings in electronic circuitry and can cause electrical shorts that fry circuit boards.

“Just as a tiny blood clot can fell a seemingly hale human, a tin ‘whisker’ can bring an electronic device to its knees,” writes C&EN senior editor Sophie L. Rovner. “Electrical shorts caused by growth of these needle-like crystals have knocked out guided missiles and communications satellites, shut down a nuclear power plant, and caused heart pacemakers to fail.”

Tin “whiskers” have been a technological headache for more than 60 years, the article notes. The problem is growing more serious, however, due to increased societal dependence on electronics devices and government regulations limiting use of lead, which discourages whisker formation.

Rovner describes the massive scope of the tin whisker problem, and the research counter offense being launched by scientists.

Journalists’ Resources

  • General Chemistry Glossary
    The General Chemistry Glossary can be found here.
  • Introducing ACS Updates:
    ACS Updates: Hot research that can be a treasure trove for journalists seeking news and feature topics, or trying to keep current in rapidly-evolving scientific disciplines.
  • Forensic Science
    Concise summaries of articles on forensic science published from 2005-2006 in a dozen major journals, courtesy of ACS’ Analytical Chemistry. Download the PDF or view these summaries online.
  • Science Elements: ACS Audio Clips
    Listen to Science news podcasts from the American Chemical Society.
  • News, Features, Background, Sources from ACS National Meeting
    News media resources from the March 25-29 meeting in Chicago include more than 9,000 abstracts of technical presentations and more than 1,000 non-technical summaries in a searchable database, plus press releases, podcasts, and other material. If you are researching or sourcing stories on chemistry-related topics, this resource can be a treasure trove accessible by the following:

    ACS News Service’s National Meeting Press Book page
    ACS Chicago National Meeting News Page
    ACS Press Center

Mark Your Calendars

234th ACS National Meeting, August 19-23 Boston, MA
News media registration
is now open for the 234th ACS national meeting, which will be held in Boston, MA on August 19-23, 2007 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and more than a dozen hotels across the city. More than 16,000 scientists and others are expected to attend this scientific extravaganza. There will be more than 9,500 presentations on new discoveries in chemistry, health, medicine, energy, environment, food, and other fields. The theme: “Biotechnology for Health and Wellness.”

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