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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: June 12, 2006

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News Items in this Edition

Peruvian plant points the way to wound-healing discovery

Research on a plant renowned in traditional Peruvian medicine has enabled chemists to discover that an inexpensive, commercially available material has a remarkable ability to speed the healing of wounds. Chronic, nonhealing wounds are a multi-billion-dollar health care problem. An estimated 5 million people in the United States suffer from wounds that do not heal normally.

As part of an international multidisciplinary search for inexpensive wound-healing compounds, Gerald B. Hammond and Abraham J. Vaisberg became interested in the plant, Anredera diffusa (A. diffusa). People in Peru call the plant “Lloto,” and use its wet leaves as a wound dressing.

Vaisberg and Hammond and their colleagues verified that extracts of the plant do, indeed, speed wound healing. Then they discovered a derivative of the active principle in A. diffusa. It turned out to be oleanolic acid, a substance commercially available and used in certain skin-care products.

Tests showed that wounds treated with oleanolic acid healed about 43 percent faster than untreated wounds. Their research is scheduled for publication in the June 23 issue of Natural Products. Other research has suggested that oleanolic acid may have potential uses in diseases ranging from acne to HIV infection.

Toward a one-step process for producing and storing hydrogen

In an intriguing discovery that could be a step toward a hydrogen economy, scientists are reporting evidence that hydrogen can be produced and stored in a single process. Hydrogen currently is produced in centralized facilities. Use of the clean-burning fuel, however, is limited by the lack of efficient ways of transporting hydrogen to potentially millions of fueling stations and other end-users.

Angela D. Lueking and colleagues at the Pennsylvania State University are reporting evidence that such a two-in-one process is possible. Their study is scheduled for the June 21 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The process uses low-cost material — anthracite coal — that is milled, or ground, into fine particles in the presence of a chemical, cyclohexene, that releases hydrogen.

Milling gives the carbon in coal a special molecular structure that traps and holds hydrogen. The hydrogen is released slowly over the span of a year or more rapidly under heat.

The process might be one option for distributed production of hydrogen, which involves production in small-scale facilities located near end-users, rather than in distant central complexes, the researchers note.

Heavy lifting: water vs. whiskey

In one scene from the Three Stooges, that memorable comedy act from yesteryear, Larry spills water on the bar. Moe reaches for his glass but can’t budge it from the bar top. The water has glued the glass to the surface. Moe grabs the glass with both hands and, amid much grunting and grimacing, tugs with all his strength. Finally, the glass pops loose, and the contents splash right into Moe’s face.

Why is it so hard to lift a wet glass from a table? Why does it seem easier when whiskey or wine has spilled, rather than water? David van der Spoel and colleagues use scientific analysis to tackle those questions in a report scheduled for the July 4 issue of Langmuir.

Here is the tongue-in-cheek part of their conclusions:

“[These findings] may have severe social implications. We note that the energy required for lifting a glass from a wet table is lowest for hard liquor (over 40 percent alcohol). Hence, intoxicated persons may be tempted to drink whiskey rather than water as it requires only half the effort to pick up the glass. The impact of this finding on alcohol consumption patterns falls beyond the scope of this work, however.”

A new role for white-rot fungus in easing landfill crunch

Scientists are reporting the discovery of the first technology for biodegrading the super-durable “glue” that holds together exterior plywood, fiberboard and many other building materials that accumulate in landfills to the tune of millions of tons annually. The study is scheduled for publication in the July 1 issue of Environmental Science & Technology.

These engineered molding and wood products are glued together by phenolic resins (PRs), tough synthetic polymers. PRs are ideal for building materials because they resist attack by termites and fungi that rot other materials. That durability, however, means that virtually all building materials made with PRs eventually find their way to landfills.

Instead of rotting, these products remain intact permanently, taking up increasingly scarce landfill space. The only other possibilities for recycling PRs have serious drawbacks, involving the use of toxic solvents and high amounts of energy.

Now, however, Adam C. Gusse and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin in Madison have used a white-rot fungus to successfully biodegrade PRs. White-rot fungi, which produce powerful enzymes, have been used as a bioremediation technology to degrade several pollutants. “This is the first demonstrated biodegradation of PRs and stands as a platform for investigation into biorecycling and bioremediation of phenolic resins,” the researchers said.

Something old + something new → the modern raincoat

Snuggle into modern rainwear during downpours this summer, and high-tech fabrics will keep you dry outside and inside. While the outer surface sheds rain, the inside wicks perspiration away from the skin and lets body heat escape. Light and breathable, Gore-Tex and other waterproof fabrics are marvels of textile engineering.

However, they still rely on a 180-year-old design developed by that great grandfather of rainwear, Charles Macintosh. Bethany Halford discusses the Macintosh connection in an article scheduled for the June 12 issue of Chemical & Engineering News. Macintosh, a Scottish chemist, patented the waterproof fabric concept in 1823, and used the fabric to make a raincoat. There were few buyers for that famous garment, which was heavy and hot with a foul rubbery stink.

Modern waterproof fabrics, however, borrow Macintosh’s idea of sandwiching one layer of material between others. Today’s breathable rainwear uses an architecture consisting of layers of hydrophilic polyurethane, microporous polytetrafluoroethylene, and other materials to give consumers an attractive blend of comfort and rain-resistance.

Journalists’ Resources

  • 2005 Annual Report
    Investors read annual reports to assess profitability, growth, and stability of companies. The American Chemical Society’s 2005 annual report can be a valuable resource for journalists taking the pulse of the chemistry enterprise. The science and business of chemistry is undergoing unprecedented changes today. There’s the influence of globalization, chemistry’s diversification into a multidisciplinary field, uncertain political environments and more.

Mark Your Calendars

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.