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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: August 16, 2006

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News Items in this Edition

Cooling towers may host new pathogens

Cooling towers may be hot spots where new forms of disease-causing bacteria emerge, scientists report. Sharon G. Berk and colleagues set out to determine whether cooling towers — fixtures that extract waste heat and provide cooled water for air-conditioning, manufacturing and electric power generation — encourage a worrisome relationship between amoebae and bacterial pathogens of amoebae (single-celled organisms that dwell in water).

Numerous human pathogens have been detected in amoebae, and evidence suggests that amoebae act as incubators in which certain human pathogens multiply profusely. The microbe responsible for Legionnaires’ disease is among the bacteria that reproduce in amoebae. Infected amoebae swell like a balloon, burst and release bacteria that then can infect other hosts.

In the new study, Berk’s group sampled 40 cooling towers and 40 natural aquatic environments. Infected amoebae were 16 times more likely to be in cooling towers than in rivers, lakes and ponds.

“Such pathogens of amoebae may spread to the environment via aerosols from the cooling towers,” the researchers state in a report published online in advance of a special issue on infectious disease, scheduled to be published in the Jan. 1, 2008, issue of the ACS journal, Environmental Science & Technology. ”Studies of emerging infectious diseases should strongly consider cooling towers as a source of amoeba-associated pathogens.”

Toward a drug to reduce the toll from measles

Researchers report progress toward development of a drug to treat measles, which remains one of the world's most devastating infectious diseases despite availability of a vaccine to prevent it.

The World Health Organization estimates that measles still kills about 500,000 people each year. Most of the deaths involve children and take place in developing countries, where vaccine is not universally available. Regional measles outbreaks also occur regularly in large parts of the developed world, partially due to reduced vaccination coverage because of parental concerns about vaccine safety.

In a report scheduled for publication in the Aug. 24 issue of the ACS’ Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, the research teams of James P. Snyder and Richard K. Plemper of Emory University suggest that a cost-effective measles drug could augment the vaccine and reduce morbidity and mortality associated with this highly infectious disease.

The researchers describe the design, synthesis and early laboratory testing in cell cultures of several compounds that interfere with the measles virus entry into cells and which may be effective when taken by mouth. To date, no drug is available for the treatment of measles and the control of local outbreaks. One of the new compounds appears especially promising, and the scientists are moving ahead with research to improve its potency.

Tapping the power of lightsticks

Scientists have applied the principle behind lightsticks — those snap-to-glow devices that light up without electricity — to produce remote photopolymerization, a long-sought process for sealing inaccessible cracks and numerous other potential practical uses.

Douglas C. Neckers, Andrei V. Fedorov and Andrei A. Ermoskin report a demonstration of remote polymerization, or "remote cure," in a study scheduled for publication in the Aug. 22 issue of the ACS journal, Macromolecules. Photopolymers are the basis of multi-billion-dollar industries, with uses that include clear coatings, paints, varnishes, adhesives and sealants. These liquids change or "cure" into solids when exposed to light. Chemists have speculated for years about an apparent contradiction in terms — the possibility of having photopolymerization happen without light or heat.

Neckers, Fedorov and Ermoskin have demonstrated that photopolymers will harden in the presence of the chemical reactions that make lightsticks glow. They propose “remote cure” as a name for the process and cite several possible applications. Among them are sealing joints, cracks or holes inside pipes, tubes or containers where light cannot reach. “Another utilization of remote cure might be to cause the formation of a coating behind a pipe or in a room that could not be entered because of contamination.”

Wine’s disastrous M-word: zeroing in on the source.

After more than a century of theorizing about the origins of the “M-word,” which can spell disaster for wine makers, scientists are focusing on two groups of bacteria, according to a report scheduled for the Sept. 6 issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The M-word is “mousy,” as in mousy off-flavor. It refers to an extremely disagreeable flavor in wine that closely resembles the odor of a nest of mice. The flavor makes wine undrinkable, or means a lower sales price. There currently is no way of removing the flavor from wine. It means millions of dollars in losses for wine makers each year, and by some accounts is becoming an increasingly serious problem.

In what they are calling the first review of research on the topic, Paul K. Bowyer and colleagues pin the blame on two kinds of bacteria that can infect wine and produce chemical compounds with the mousy flavor. The researchers note that efforts are progressing toward development of a way to remove the mousy flavor from tainted wines.

The Periodic Table of Nanoparticles?

Could the famous Periodic Table of the Elements, a fixture on the walls of science classrooms and laboratories around the world, eventually get a companion … perhaps the Periodic Table of Nanoparticles?

A report scheduled for the Aug. 21 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, the American Chemical Society’s weekly newsmagazine, raises that possibility. Written by senior editor Ivan Amato, the article describes how some nanoscience researchers liken the minuscule particles they are making — and mixing and matching like atoms — to the elements of a new periodic table.

Of course, the traditional periodic table is far more than a listing of all the known chemical elements and their properties. It is a powerful tool for systematizing, comparing and predicting many different forms of chemical behavior. “Even if this nascent nanoparticle table contains only a smidgen of the explanatory and predictive power of the traditional element table, it could prove to be invaluable,” Amato writes. Such a table could help scientists recognize yet-to-be-discovered purposes of nanoparticles, and identify and exploit the rules by which nanoparticles assemble into a large and ever-growing menagerie of nanostructures, according to the article.

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232nd ACS National Meeting in San Francisco

September 10-14 is one of the year’s biggest and most influential scientific conferences – the 232nd ACS national meeting in beautiful San Francisco.

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.