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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: January 16, 2008

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News Items in this Edition

New methane storage technology exceeds DOE goals

In a major advance in alternative fuel technology, researchers report development of a sponge-like material with the highest methane storage capacity ever measured. It can hold almost one-third more methane than the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) target level for methane-powered cars, they report in a new study. It is scheduled for the Jan. 23 issue of ACS’ Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.

Hong-Cai Zhou and colleagues note that lack of an effective, economical and safe on-board storage system for methane gas has been one of the major hurdles preventing methane-driven automobiles from competing with traditional ones. Recently, highly-porous, crystalline materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) have emerged as promising storage materials due to their high surface areas. However, none of the MOF compounds have reached DOE target levels considered practical for fuel storage applications, the scientists say.

The report describes development of a new type of MOF, called PCN-14, that has a high surface area of over 2000 m2/g. Laboratory studies show that the compound, composed of clusters of nano-sized cages, has a methane storage capacity 28 percent higher than the DOE target, a record high for methane-storage materials, the researchers say. — MTS

New microchip for PCR testing at crime scenes, doctors’ offices

Researchers in Hong Kong have miniaturized technology needed to perform the versatile polymerase chain reaction (PCR) — widely used in criminal investigations, disease diagnosis, and a range of other key applications. In a study scheduled for the Jan. 15 issue of ACS’ Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal, they report development of a long-sought PCR microchip that could permit use of PCR at crime scenes, in doctors’ offices, and other out-of-lab locations.

I-Ming Hsing and colleagues note that PCR works like a biological copy machine, transforming a few wisps of DNA into billions of copies. However, existing PCR machines are so big and complex that they can be used only in laboratories. Scientists have searched for years for a portable, PCR technique that can be used outside the lab.

The study describes a new PCR technique that uses electrochemical DNA sensors to provide simultaneous DNA amplification and detection on a silicon-glass microchip. Their performance tests show that the new technique, called electrochemical real-time PCR (ERT-PCR), is about as fast and sensitive as conventional PCR. The new technique shows “tremendous” promise as a portable system for moving DNA analysis out of the lab and into remote locations, the researchers say. — MTS

Celery makes “Grandma’s Penicillin” tastier in cold & flu season

Batches of homemade chicken soup — fondly known as “Grandma’s Penicillin” — will be more appealing to stuffy-nosed cold and flu victims this winter if prepared with plenty of celery. That’s the take-home message from a study scheduled for the Jan. 23 issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication, which reports identification of the flavor-boosting components in celery.

In the new study, Kikue Kubota and colleagues note that cooks have long recognized celery’s “remarkable” ability to enchance the complex flavors of soups and broths. Almost magically, celery takes on a sweet-spicy flavor after boiling, helping to give food a thick, full-bodied, satisfying taste. Until now, however, scientists have been unable to track down the roots of celery’s effects.

The scientists prepared batches of chicken broth with and without a volatile extract from celery. Panels of tasters confirmed that the flavor of soup made with celery extract was more intense. In particular, celery’s extract enhanced the sweetness and umami (meaty or savory) taste of the broth, even though the extract had virtually no flavor of its own.

From the extract, researchers identified three compounds responsible for celery’s flavor-enhancement. The compounds were phthalides, and they had the ability to enhance flavors despite being tasteless themselves. — MTS

Growing consumer demand for “greener” cleaning products sparks industry changes

Amid growing consumer demand for more environmentally-friendly cleaning products, chemical suppliers are stepping-up their efforts to provide greener ingredients with the same effectiveness of conventional ones, according to an article scheduled for the Jan. 21 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the magazine’s cover story, C&EN Assistant Managing Editor Michael McCoy notes that “green” cleaning supplies were once the province of fringe industries but are now attracting the attention of big corporations in the United States and beyond. Increasingly, suppliers are generating consumer cleaning products that contain natural or naturally-derived ingredients, avoid the use of environmentally-harmful chemicals, and generate less carbon dioxide during manufacturing and use, McCoy states. Consumer products giant Clorox will join the bandwagon this month by rolling out a new line of green cleaning products with the earth-friendly name Green Works, he notes.

Under pressure from groups including consumers, the government and the news media, chemical suppliers are feverishly working to come up with new ingredients that are both environmentally-friendly and perform as well as conventional cleaning products, the writer notes. But the road to green is not necessarily a smooth one. For one thing, there is no consensus on what is considered natural. Moreover, environmental standards can vary from region to region, the article points out. Still, there are clear signs that greener cleaning supplies will become more commonplace and more competitive with conventional ones, a trend that could make for a cleaner, greener future, the article suggests.

For Wired Readers

  • 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

  • Updates on Fast-Breaking Advances in Nanoscience
  • American Chemical Society has launched a new nanoscience and nanotechnology community Website. Called ACS Nanotation, the site aims to become the premiere destination for nanoscience and nanotechnology news, highlights and community. Features include research highlights from ACS journals, career resources, podcasts and other multimedia resources, and interaction with other scientists. Registration is free.
  • 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.
  • ACS Press releases
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  • General Chemistry Glossary
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