Here is the latest American Chemical Society (ACS) Office of Public Affairs Weekly PressPac with news from ACS’ 34 peer-reviewed journals and Chemical & Engineering News.
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Please cite the individual journal, or the American Chemical Society, as the source of this information.
Scientists in California are reporting use of a first-of-its-kind approach to craft genetically engineered microbes with the much-sought ability to transform switchgrass, corn cobs, and other organic materials into methyl halides — the raw material for making gasoline and a host of other commercially important products. The new bioprocess could help pave the way for producing biofuels from agricultural waste, easing concerns about stress on the global food supply from using corn and other food crops. Their study is scheduled for the May 20 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.
Christopher Voigt and colleagues note in the new study that using crop waste to produce methyl halides is one of the most attractive ways of transforming biomass into liquid fuels and chemical raw materials now derived from petroleum. Plants and microbes produce methyl halides naturally, but in amounts too small for commercial use.
Using a database of 89 genes from plants, fungi, and bacteria known to produce methyl halides, the researchers identified genes that were the most likely to produce the highest levels of these substances. The scientists then spliced these genes into Brewer’s yeast — used to make beer and wine — so that the yeast cells churned out methyl halides instead of alcohol. In laboratory studies, the two engineered microbes helped boost methyl halide production from switchgrass, corn cob husks, sugar cane waste, and poplar wood to levels with commercial potential. — MTS
Wood or concrete? Railroads around the world face that decision as they replace millions of deteriorating cross ties, also known as railway sleepers, those rectangular objects used as a base for railroad tracks. A new report concludes that emissions of carbon dioxide — one of the main greenhouse gases contributing to global warming — from production of concrete sleepers are up to six times less than emissions associated with timber sleepers. The study is scheduled for the June 1 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.
In the study, Robert Crawford points out that there have been long-standing concerns about environmental consequences of manufacturing railway sleepers because it involves harvesting large amounts of timber. Reinforced concrete sleepers are an alternative that offer greater strength, durability and long-term cost savings, he said. Critics of using concrete sleepers have charged that their manufacture increases greenhouse gas emissions as it involves higher consumption of fuel when compared to production of wood sleepers.
Crawford studied the greenhouse gas emissions of wooden and reinforced concrete sleepers based on one kilometer (0.62 miles) length of track over a 100-year life cycle. He found that emissions from reinforced concrete sleepers can be from two to six times lower than those from timber. “The results suggest strongly that reinforced concrete sleepers result in lower life cycle greenhouse emissions than timber sleepers,” the report states. — JS
Here's some sweet news for honey lovers: Researchers in France are reporting development of a simple test for distinguishing 100 percent natural honeys from adulterated or impure versions that they say are increasingly being foisted off on consumers. Their study appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.
Bernard Herbreteau and colleagues point out that the high price of honey and its limited supply has led some beekeepers and food processors to fraudulently make and sell impure honey doped with inexpensive sweeteners, such as corn syrup. These knock-offs are almost physically and chemically indistinguishable from the real thing. Scientists need a better way to identify adulterated honey, the researchers say.
Herbreteau and colleagues describe a new, highly sensitive test that uses a special type of chromatography to separate and identify complex sugars (polysaccharides) on their characteristic chemical fingerprints. To test their method, the scientists obtained three different varieties of pure honey from a single beekeeper and then prepared adulterated samples of the honeys by adding 1 percent corn syrup. They showed that the new technique accurately distinguished the impure honeys from the pure versions based on differences in their sugar content. — MTS
Scientists in Germany and India are reporting development of a new polymer that reduces the amount of radioactive waste produced during routine operation of nuclear reactors. Their study, which details a first-of-its-kind discovery, has been published in the ACS’ Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, a bi-weekly journal.
Börje Sellergren and colleagues note that structural materials such as carbon steel in power plants' water cooling systems form deposits of metal oxides when they interact with coolants. In nuclear power plants, these oxides trap radioactive ions, leading to buildups of radioactivity that require costly cleanups of reactor surfaces. Cobalt, present in some alloys used in the reactors' water systems, is a major contributor toward this problem because of its long half-life.
In the study, the researchers created an adsorbent material that — unlike conventional ion-exchange resins that are frequently used in reactors — is selective for cobalt but has the unique ability of disregarding iron-based ions. The polymer's high selectivity increases its appeal, the researchers add, for use in decontamination processes in reactors that utilize a variety of structural materials.— JS
New European Union (EU) regulations restricting use of animals to test the safety of shampoo, nail polish, and other personal care products are forcing cosmetic makers to seek alternative ways to test these products, according to an article scheduled for the May 11 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.
Journal: Chemical & Engineering News
Journal Article: “Europe’s Beauty Race”
This story will be available on May 11.
C&EN senior correspondent Marc Reisch explains in the cover story that an EU regulation now restricts use of animal testing, and will totally ban it effective in 2013. “Its influence is far reaching because it will affect substances imported into the EU and because EU regulations are often adopted in other countries,” the article notes.
As a result, cosmetic makers are evaluating safety with so-called in vitro or “test tube” testing, simulations of cosmetic effects with computers, and safety information in existing databases. Some manufacturers express concern because EU officials have not yet validated all of the new testing methods and worry that the regulations could stifle development of innovative cosmetic ingredients.
The American Chemical Society’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) has created a new pressroom blog to highlight prominent research from ACS’ 34 journals. The blog includes daily commentary on the latest news from the weekly PressPac, including video and audio segments from researchers on topics covering chemistry and related sciences, including nanotechnology, food science, materials science and the environment. The pressroom blog will also cover updates on ACS’ awards, the national meetings and other general news from the world’s largest scientific society.
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PressPac information is intended for your personal use in news gathering and reporting and should not be distributed to others. Anyone using advance PressPac information for stocks or securities dealing may be guilty of insider trading under the federal Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
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.