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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: July 12, 2006

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News Items in this Edition

Toward an effective treatment for seafood poisoning

In an advance toward developing an effective treatment for ciguatera (sig-wa-TEHR-a) poisoning — the world’s most common type of seafood poisoning — scientists have synthesized the toxin responsible for the disease. Estimates suggest that up to one million cases of ciguatoxin poisoning occur worldwide each year. In addition to serious acute symptoms, ciguatoxin poisons often cause long-lasting neurological problems.

The advance, by Masayuki Inoue, Masahiro Hirama and colleagues, means that a more abundant supply of ciguatoxin will be available for drug development and other research. In a report scheduled for the August 2 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Inoue and Hirama note that the scanty supply of natural ciguatoxin has been a major barrier to alleviating the disease.

Scientists had to grind and process 8,800 pounds of moray eel to obtain 0.00001 ounce of natural ciguatoxin. In 1989, chemists used that fraction of a drop to determine ciguatoxin’s molecular structure. That key step enabled chemists to begin work on ways of making larger quantities of synthetic ciguatoxin. Inoue and Hirama state that their achievement “will accelerate biological studies as well as the development of strategies for controlling ciguatera seafood poisoning.”

Converting biomass directly into electricity

Sticker-shock gasoline prices have sharpened public awareness that switch grass, cornstalks and other plant matter is the most economical raw material for making ethanol, which can be mixed with gasoline. Now a study scheduled for the July 19 issue of ACS Energy & Fuels reports that cornstalks can be an alternative source of electricity.

Logan and colleagues focused on corn stalks, or corn stover, which is the biggest waste biomass resource in the United States. An estimated 250 million tons of corn stover is produced annually. About 90 percent of it is left unused in farm fields after the harvest.

The research demonstrated that using corn stalks treated with a process termed “steam explosion” converts the cellulose into fuel for microbial fuel cells (MFCs). Electrochemically active bacteria in MFCs generate electricity by oxidizing the treated cornstalks.

“Most people have suddenly learned that ethanol can be made from corn stalks,” said Bruce E. Logan, who headed the study. “We show here that you can use bacteria to make electricity from this material [corn stalks], which is an alternative to ethanol. Coupled with our other work, it should also be possible to make hydrogen from this material as well in a slightly modified process.”

Household cleaners + ozone → new indoor pollution problem

Ground-level ozone pollution — a summertime problem in many urban areas — also may contribute to a previously unrecognized form of indoor air pollution, scientists are reporting.

Ozone seeps indoors from the outdoor air. Ozone also forms indoors from operation of certain increasingly popular electronic “air purifiers,” as well as printers, faxes and other office equipment. William Nazaroff, Hugo Destaillats and colleagues report that ozone can interact with ingredients in household cleaning products and air fresheners to produce a group of secondary air pollutants.

Their tests included a pine-oil cleaner, an orange-based household cleaner and a plug-in air freshener. Ozone interacted with the products to form secondary air pollutants that included formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen and mucus membrane irritant. Many other household cleaning and air freshening products contain similar chemical compounds that could interact in the same way, the researchers say in a report scheduled for publication in the July 15 issue of ACS Environmental Science & Technology.

Pulling Genes’ Strings

A once-obscure field called epigenetics is rocketing into prominence in molecular biology and medicine as scientists explore and apply a phenomenon in which the function of genes can change without any change in the sequence of nuclear DNA, according to an article scheduled for the July 17 issue of Chemical & Engineering News reports.

One sign of epigenetics’ potential is the U. S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of two drugs for treating blood disorders that work by causing epigenetic changes, the article notes. Written by Ivan Amato, the article explains how epigenetics research is focusing attention on chromatin, the structural material of chromosomes, which consists of a complex of DNA and protein.

DNA provides the instructions that define humans and other organisms, but chromatin has a central role in determining how the information in DNA is used. Addition of methyl (CH3) groups to specific locations in chromatin’s DNA, for instance, marks genetic sequences in the same stretch as “do not transcribe.” Both of the newly approved drugs work by blocking DNA methylation in that way. Other drugs that work epigenetically also are on the way, in addition to powerful new insights into health and disease, Amato notes in the article.

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  • Green Chemistry Blog
    Green bullets? Green sneakers? How about the U. S. debut of a green insect repellent? Check the ACS News Service’s new weblog for those and other news-grabbers from the 10th annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, held last month in Washington, D.C. Green chemistry is a far-ranging effort to reduce the environmental impact of the chemical enterprise. It focuses on developing and using technologies that are cleaner, smarter, less costly and more sustainable than approaches traditionally used in chemistry and chemical engineering.

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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.