FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | Mon Dec 10 15:42:03 EST 2007

Five Firsts of 2007

With 2007 drawing to a close, list-making time has arrived once again. For science journalists, those aren’t just wish lists of holiday gifts, but lists of discoveries that stand out above the crowd. During a busy year of publicizing almost 300 of the 30,000 research papers published in ACS’s 36 peer-reviewed scientific journals, and Chemical & Engineering News, we were impressed at the number of “firsts” noted in the Weekly PressPac and press releases.

Office of Communications (OC) science writers picked five first-of-their-kind discoveries as examples of the “firsts” socked away in the ACS PressPac and press release archives found at the ACS Press Room [http://www.acs.org/pressroom]. Our “Five Firsts of 2007” introduces advances in personal security, cardiovascular disease, environmental contamination and renewable energy. Please shop the PressPac and press release archives for a Santa’s sack of others, complete with links to the full-text research paper and contact information.

ARTICLE #1

The first molecular keypad lock

Journal of the American Chemical Society

How can defense or intelligence agencies safeguard the security of top-secret data protected by a computation device the size of a single molecule? With cryptography approaching that sobering new era, scientists in Israel reported development of what they term the first molecular system capable of processing password entries. Abraham Shanzer and colleagues described their “molecular keypad lock” in the Jan. 17 issue of the weekly Journal of the American Chemical Society. Electronic keypad locks long have been fixtures on home security systems and other devices that require a password.

The study, however, described a keypad lock based on molecules that fluoresce only in response to the correct sequences of three input signals.

“By harnessing the principles of molecular Boolean logic, we have designed a molecular device that mimics the operation of an electronic keypad, a common security circuit used for numerous applications in which access to an object or data is to be restricted to a limited number of persons,” the researchers state. “The development of a molecular-scale keypad lock is a particularly attractive goal as it represents a new approach to protecting information at the molecular scale.” The researchers cite DNA-microdot encryption as a complementary approach, which in combination with their molecular lock might provide an unbreakable protection against forgery.

ARTICLE #2

Toward more effective treatments for aspirin-resistant patients

Journal of Proteome Research

In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists in Spain reported identification of blood proteins that seem to be involved in aspirin resistance, a condition that prevents thousands of patients from reaping aspirin’s beneficial effects in protecting against heart disease and stroke. The study appeared in the July 6 issue of ACS’s Journal of Proteome Research, a monthly journal.

Antonio J. Lopez-Farre and Carlos Macaya and colleagues described what they term the first use of a powerful technology called two-dimensional electrophoresis to study changes in different proteins present in two groups of patients with coronary artery disease, the underlying cause of most heart attacks. One group of patients was aspirin-sensitive and the other had aspirin resistance.

The researchers found increased levels of three proteins involved in the binding of vitamin D in patients with aspirin resistance. They also described additional laboratory experiments demonstrating that those proteins can inhibit aspirin’s effects in preventing blood clots. “These results may aid future development of more effective therapies for aspirin-resistant patients,” the study concludes.

ARTICLE #3

Explosive discovery on genetically engineered tobacco plant

Environmental Science & Technology

Tobacco may be bad for human health, but a new study reported that a genetically engineered tobacco plant may be very good for the environment. It shows promise for cleaning up soil contaminated with TNT, a widely used military explosive. The study appeared in the Aug. 15 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

Antonio J. Lopez-Farre and Carlos Macaya and colleagues described what they term the first use of a powerful technology called two-dimensional electrophoresis to study changes in different proteins present in two groups of patients with coronary artery disease, the underlying cause of most heart attacks. One group of patients was aspirin-sensitive and the other had aspirin resistance.

The researchers found increased levels of three proteins involved in the binding of vitamin D in patients with aspirin resistance. They also described additional laboratory experiments demonstrating that those proteins can inhibit aspirin’s effects in preventing blood clots. “These results may aid future development of more effective therapies for aspirin-resistant patients,” the study concludes.

ARTICLE #4

“Wiring up” enzymes for producing hydrogen in fuel cells
Nano Letters

Researchers in Colorado reported the first successful “wiring up” of hydrogenase enzymes. Those much-heralded proteins are envisioned as stars in a future hydrogen economy where they may serve as catalysts for hydrogen production and oxidation in fuel cells. Their report, describing a successful electrical connection between a carbon nanotube and hydrogenase, appeared in the Nov. issue of ACS' Nano Letters, a monthly journal.

In the study, Michael J. Heben, Paul W. King, and colleagues explain that bacterial enzymes called hydrogenases show promise as powerful catalysts for using hydrogen in fuel cells, which can produce electricity with virtually no pollution for motor vehicles, portable electronics, and other devices. However, scientists report difficulty incorporating these enzymes into electrical devices because the enzymes do not form good electrical connections with fuel cell components. Currently, precious metals, such as platinum, are typically needed to perform this catalysis.

The researchers combined hydrogenase enzymes with carbon nanotubes, submicroscopic strands of pure carbon that are excellent electrical conductors. In laboratory studies, the researchers demonstrated that a good electrical connection was established using photoluminescence spectroscopy measurements. These new “biohybrid” conjugates could reduce the cost of fuel cells by reducing or eliminating the need for platinum and other costly metal components, they say.

ARTICLE #5

Toward a faster prenatal test for Down syndrome

Analytical Chemistry

Scientists in California reported an advance toward rapid testing for pre-natal detection of Down syndrome and other birth defects that involve an abnormal number of chromosomes.

In a study that appeared in the Oct. 1 issue of ACS’ journal Analytical Chemistry, Stanford University bioengineering professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher Stephen R. Quake and his graduate student H. Christina Fan point out that most existing pre-natal tests depend on a technique termed karyotyping. It requires a two-week wait for anxious parents, while cells taken with amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling are grown in laboratory culture and analyzed.

Laboratory studies with the new method produced accurate results within two hours. The test is a variation of the famed polymerase chain reaction (PCR) — the basis of the genetic engineering revolution — which produces thousands of identical copies of minute samples of DNA.

Using a technique known as the digital polymerase chain reaction, Quake and Fan replicated DNA from two cultures of cells growing in the laboratory. One consisted of a normal human cell line and the other had human cells with the Down variant. The digital

PCR process allowed the researchers to count DNA molecules from the samples, substituting for the two-week cell culture process traditionally needed to produce enough DNA for karyotyping. With the precision derived from counting individual DNA molecules, researchers then were able to move ahead without delay and determine which samples had the extra chromosome that indicates Down syndrome.

*The research in this release is from a copyrighted publication, and stories must credit either the journal by name or the American Chemical Society.