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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: May 14, 2008

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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

New-generation artificial cornea could restore vision for millions worldwide

An improved artificial cornea, which could restore the vision of more than 10 million people worldwide who are blind due to diseased corneas, finally is moving toward reality, scientists in California conclude in a new analysis of research on the topic. Their study is scheduled for the June 6 issue of ACS' Biotechnology Progress, a bi-monthly journal.

Curtis Frank, Christopher Ta, David Myung, and Jennifer Cochran point out that disease or injury to the cornea — the clear tissue covering the front of the eye — is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. Although treated in developed countries with transplants from donors, cornea transplants are unavailable in many parts of the world due to shortages of donors or to cultural or religious barriers. The growing popularity of laser eye surgery also is reducing availability of corneas by making them unacceptable for donation, the researchers add.

The report describes new materials that already have made limited-use artificial corneas available, partially fulfilling a medical dream that dates to 1771. More advanced materials, including polymer hydrogels similar to those used to make soft contact lenses, promise to so closely imitate human donor corneas that “these devices could eliminate the need for donor corneas altogether,” the article notes. — MTS

First evidence that bacteria get “touchy-feely” about dangerous biofilms

Researchers in Massachusetts report for the first time that bacteria use a sense of touch in deciding where to form biofilms. Those colonies of microbes grow on medical implants and other devices and play a key role in the multi-billion-dollar-per-year problem of antibiotic resistant infections. The finding could lead to safer implant materials for fighting biofilms, which are linked to thousands of deaths each year, the scientists say. It also can be used to develop materials capable of sustaining cultures of important, beneficial bacteria. Their study is scheduled for the June 9 issue of ACS’ Biomacromolecules, a bi-monthly journal.

In the new report, Krystyn J. Van Vliet and colleagues note that past research focused on killing microbes that already have formed biofilms, or impregnating surfaces with antimicrobial compounds. Scientists knew about certain surface conditions that affected biofilm formation, though many results were in conflict, and the effect of mechanical stiffness of those surfaces had not been considered previously.

The researchers studied the effects of different polymer materials on the adhesion of Staphylococcus epidermidis, the most common bacterial source of hospital-based infections, and on E. coli. In laboratory tests, they found that the bacteria adhered preferentially to the stiffer polymers, as compared to other polymers. Altering the stiffness of the polymers used in implants could lead to “smarter” materials for fighting or sustaining biofilm formation, they conclude. — MTS

Rice grown in United States contains less-dangerous form of arsenic

Rice grown in the United States may be safer than varieties from Asia and Europe, according to a new global study of the grain that feeds over half of humanity. The study evaluated levels of arsenic, which can be toxic at high levels, in rice worldwide. The two-part report is scheduled for the May 15 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

Yamily J. Zavala and colleagues point out that rice is a potentially important source of human exposure to arsenic, especially in populations with rice-based diets. Arsenic in rice is of special concern because it accumulates in much higher concentrations in rice than other staple grain crops. The researchers discovered that arsenic contamination of irrigation water was more important than soil contamination in increasing arsenic levels in rice.

Using global arsenic data, the researchers classified rice into two types, where the predominant arsenic forms were either organic or the more toxic inorganic forms. They found that rice from the United States largely contains organic arsenic, which is less easily absorbed into the body and excreted more rapidly than inorganic arsenic. Rice contaminated with inorganic arsenic prevails in Asia and Europe. The study suggests that breeding new rice varieties that convert inorganic arsenic to organic arsenic would be an “important risk reduction strategy, especially for countries like Bangladesh and India with arsenic contaminated environments and high rice consumption rates.” — AD

A simple, low-cost carbon filter removes 90% of carbon dioxide from smokestack gases

Researchers in Wyoming report development of a low-cost carbon filter that can remove 90 percent of carbon dioxide gas from the smokestacks of electric power plants that burn coal and other fossil fuels. Their study is scheduled for the May 21 issue of ACS’ monthly journal, Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

Maciej Radosz and colleagues at Wyoming's Soft Materials Laboratory cite the pressing need for simple, inexpensive new technologies to remove carbon dioxide from smokestack gases. Coal-burning electric power plants are major sources of the greenhouse gas, and control measures may be required in the future.

The study describes a new carbon dioxide-capture process, called a Carbon Filter Process, designed to meet the need. It uses a simple, low-cost filter filled with porous carbonaceous sorbent that works at low pressures. Modeling data and laboratory tests suggest that the device works better than existing technologies at a fraction of their cost. — MTS

Dirt-digging Mars spacecraft to look for evidence of life beneath planet’s surface

With the scheduled landing of the Phoenix spacecraft on the surface of Mars later this month, scientists are hoping that the craft will provide new chemical clues about the red planet’s watery past or even the presence of life. If successful, the mission will be the first to dig beneath the planet’s surface, according to an article scheduled for the May 19 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

Written by Senior Editor Elizabeth K. Wilson, the C&EN article notes that several space vehicles have explored Mars over the past few years, providing valuable information about its surface rocks and atmosphere. But many scientists believe that if life exists or ever existed on the planet, the chemical clues for its existence are likely found in the soil beneath the surface. Scheduled to land May 25, the Phoenix spacecraft is equipped with four sensor-laden “beakers” to test sub-surface soil samples dug by the craft’s robotic arm.

The lander’s destination is a flat plain near Mar’s north pole, where NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter recently detected evidence of subsurface water and ice. At the very least, scientists hope to finally solve the long-standing mystery of the exact chemical composition of the Martian soil. A manned mission may be next, the article notes, though not anytime soon.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Press releases, chat room sessions, and more from ACS’ 235th National Meeting

It’s never too late to explore a treasure trove of news sources, background material and story ideas available from the ACS' latest National Meeting, which was held in New Orleans from April 6-10, 2008. Reporters can view press releases, search an archive with abstracts of 9,000 scientific presentations and hundreds of non-technical summaries of those presentations, and access other resources at: www.eurekalert.org/acsmeet.php.

The ACS Office of Communications also offers recorded video versions of its national meeting “chat room” briefings and accompanying chat transcripts at http://www.ustream.tv/search/recorded/tag/ACS To use this site, you must first register with Ustream.tv by going to http://ustream.tv/sign-up-step-1. It’s free and only takes a minute or two to sign up. To view the archived chat room sessions, proceed by clicking the “Login” button at the top right of the Ustream window and then selecting “Past Clips.” Please note that Ustream requires the latest version of Adobe Flash, which can be downloaded without charge at http://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer.

  • ChemMatters Matters for Journalists

This quarterly ACS magazine for high school chemistry students, teachers, and others explains the chemistry that underpins everyday life in a lively, understandable fashion. ChemMatters is available at www.acs.org/chemmatters. You can also receive the most recent issues by contacting the editor, Pat Pages, at: 202-872-6164 or chemmatters@acs.org.

  • ACS Press Releases

General science press releases on a variety of chemistry-related topics.

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  • Science Elements: An ACS Science News Podcast
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  • ACS News



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