ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Dec 06 15:42:03 EST 2006

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News Items in this Edition

Toward a noninvasive diagnostic test for serious infections in pregnancy

Scientists have discovered the basis for a noninvasive test to diagnose common infections in pregnant women that are a major cause of premature births and infant deaths. The University of Washington’s Michael G. Gravett and colleagues are reporting identification of protein biomarkers for these hard-to-diagnose infections of the amniotic fluid, which surrounds the fetus prior to birth.

Prematurity complicates 12.5 percent of all births, causing an estimated 400,000 preterm births annually in the United States, and involves health care costs in excess of $26 billion annually. Intra-amniotic infection (IAI) is an important and potentially preventable cause of preterm birth, responsible for one-half of extremely preterm births and very low birth-weight babies.

In the study, reported in the Jan. 5 issue of the monthly ACS Journal of Proteome Research, scientists describe identifying protein biomarkers for those infections in the cervical and vaginal fluid of rhesus monkeys. The discovery, they state, “provides an opportunity for development of noninvasive reliable tests for the diagnosis of IAI.”

Such tests, they indicate, could diagnose IAI earlier and more accurately than existing diagnostic methods. Those methods include blood tests and amniocentesis, in which a needle is used to take amniotic fluid through the abdominal wall.

Stripping away lead-based paint in a flash

Journal Information

Journal: Proteome Research

Journal Article: "Proteomic Analysis of Cervical-Vaginal Fluid: Identification of Novel Biomarkers for Detection of Intra-amniotic Infection"

A new paint stripper that combines the principles of a vacuum cleaner and a pulsed lamp shows promise as a much-needed new technology for removing dangerous lead-based paint from older housing, scientists in Massachusetts are reporting. Michael J. Grapperhaus and Raymond B. Schaefer explain that existing lead abatement methods have drawbacks. Blasting and sanding, for instance, generate large amounts of toxic lead dust and may damage architectural surfaces, while chemical stripping may produce hazardous waste.

In the Dec. 15 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, they describe results of early tests on a paint stripper that uses high-intensity flashes of light — a million times more intense than sunlight — to burn off layers of lead-based paint. The flashes do not damage the underlying surface. Remains of the paint are immediately vacuumed and routed into a filtering system.

Analysis of air samples during the experiments showed no dangerous levels of lead. “These tests show that broadband incoherent light pulses can be effective in removal of lead paint from architectural materials,” the researchers report. With the concept for the new stripper proven on small samples of paint, they plan to move on to more extensive studies of the technology.

Developing seeds for growing whole gardens of identical SWCNTs

Journal Information

Journal: Environmental Science & Technology

Journal Article: “Lead Paint Removal with High Intensity Light Pulses”

Scientists at Rice University are reporting development of a new method for making single wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) that could eliminate a major barrier to commercial and industrial uses of SWCNTs.

James M. Tour and colleagues explain that SWCNTs have properties ideal for electronic devices, electrical wiring, sensors and other practical applications. Those applications require batches of the same type of SWCNT. Current methods, however, produce batches with multiple types of SWCNTs mixed together — with no workable way of separating those types.

In the Dec. 12 issue of the weekly Journal of the American Chemical Society, the researchers report invention of a method for mass-producing identical copies of SWCNTs. It starts with a “seed” SWCNT of the desired type. The seed is used to grow identical new SWCNTs. “This study establishes a method for an amplified growth process of SWCNTs with the hope of duplicating any desired n,m tube ― a process that will be required for many electronics and optoelectronics applications,” the researchers state. The researchers disclosed the small-scale, proof-of-concept protocol; however scale-up remains to be achieved.

New insights into the origin of life on Earth

Journal Information

Journal: American Chemical Society

Journal Article: "Single Wall Carbon Nanotube Amplification: En Route to a Type-Specific Growth Mechanism"

In an advance toward understanding the origin of life on Earth, scientists have shown that parts of the Krebs cycle can run in reverse, producing biomolecules that could jump-start life with only sunlight and a mineral present in the primordial oceans. The Krebs cycle is a series of chemical reactions of central importance in cells — part of a metabolic pathway that changes carbohydrates, fats and proteins into carbon dioxide and water to generate energy.

Scot T. Martin and Xiang V. Zhang explain that a reverse version of the cycle, which makes enzymes and other biomolecules from carbon dioxide, has been getting attention from scientists studying the origin of life. If the reverse cycle worked on a lifeless Earth, it could have produced the fundamental biochemicals needed for the development of more-advanced biological systems like RNA that could reproduce themselves.

In a report scheduled for the Dec. 13 issue of the weekly Journal of the American Chemical Society, Martin and Zhang demonstrate that three of the five chemical reactions in the reverse Krebs cycle worked and produced biomolecules on the surface of a mineral believed to have been present in the waters of the early Earth. The mineral ― sphalerite ― acted as a photocatalyst that worked with sunlight to foster the chemical reactions.

Calls for a new food safety regulatory agency follow spinach tragedy

Journal Information

Journal: American Chemical Society

Journal Article: “Driving Parts of the Krebs Cycle in Reverse through Mineral Photochemistry”

The recent contamination of spinach with E. coli bacteria is fostering renewed calls for a single, independent federal food safety agency that would regulate animal and plant production in an integrated way, according to an article scheduled for the Dec. 11 issue of the ACS’ weekly news magazine, Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN).

C&EN Senior Editor Bette Hileman explains that a gap long has existed in the food regulatory system, with responsibilities split between the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). No agency, however, oversees the kind of farm-based safety problems that led to the E. coli episode and other outbreaks.

The article notes a contrast in staffing at the two agencies, with USDA’s 7,000 inspectors able to visit 6,000 food processing plants daily and FDA’s 800 inspectors capable of inspecting a particular processing plant only once every five years. Hileman also describes how the spinach tragedy has led to suggestions for use of electron beam irradiation and special labels or codes that enable produce to be traced back to the farm where it was grown.

Journalists’ Resources

  • National Historic Chemical Landmarks
    America came of age as a nation in the late 1700s — the same time chemistry came of age as a science. Since then, chemists have played key roles in expanding the frontiers of knowledge, advancing medicine and industry, and creating products from aspirin to zippers. The ACS’ National Historic Chemical Landmarks program recognizes these outstanding accomplishments and tells the stories behind the research. The most recent landmark was designated on Oct. 25, when ACS designated Procter & Gamble’s development of Tide® — "the washing miracle" synthetic detergent — a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a special ceremony in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Landmarks’ Web site has valuable resources for feature stories and background.

Mark Your Calendars

Chemistry in Cancer Research: A Vital Partnership

Chemistry has an increasingly important role in research on cancer diagnosis, prevention and treatment.

To spotlight that role, the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will cosponsor a special conference entitled, “Chemistry in Cancer Research: A Vital Partnership,” Feb. 4-7 in San Diego, Calif.

It will feature presentations by prominent scientists on drug discovery, proteomics, the chemical biology of carcinogenesis, biomarkers and analytical chemistry, modeling and bioinformatics, and structural biology.

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.

Journal Information

Journal: Chemical & Engineering News

Journal Article: TBA