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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: August 09, 2006

News Items in This Edition

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News Items in this Edition

Chemistry defeats the “Godzilla of odors”

In the realm of real stinkers, a group of chemical compounds called isonitriles may have no rival. Renowned odor theorist Luca Turin once termed the isonitriles “the Godzilla of smells” and described them as the worst odor in the world. “You can’t believe how awful they smell,” Turin said. “They make you vomit your guts out instantly.”

That offensive odor is a major reason why chemists have largely shunned the isonitriles as ingredients in important chemical reactions, even though the isonitriles have distinct advantages over other ingredients. In addition, existing recipes for making isonitriles require use of hazardous compounds.

Michael C. Pirrung and Subir Ghorai, of the University of California at Riverside, now are reporting development of a new family of isonitriles. Their isonitrile esters can be made safely, work just as well in chemical synthesis reactions as existing compounds and have a pleasant odor. The odors include that of soy, malt, natural rubber, mild cherry and even taffy, according to a study scheduled for publication in the Sept. 20 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

New insights into costly destruction of subsurface petroleum

Scientists are reporting an advance toward understanding and possibly combating a natural process that destroys billions of dollars worth of subsurface petroleum. Called biodegradation, it occurs as bacteria and other microbes metabolize, or feed on, organic compounds present in crude oil.

The microbes remove the most valuable hydrocarbon compounds and change the most valuable lighter crude oils into lower-value heavy oils, bitumen and tars. Less gasoline can be produced from these heavier oils, which also are expensive to pump out of the ground and contain undesirable amounts of sulfur and metals. Most of the world's known petroleum is biodegraded oil, especially the severely biodegraded giant Athabasca tar sands and the Orinoco bitumen in Canada and Venezuela, respectively.

Scientists have been trying to identify biodegradation-limiting nutrients ― nutrients that are essential for growth of microbes in subsurface oil deposits. Reducing availability of those nutrients could slow the natural destruction of petroleum.

In the new research, University of Calgary researcher T. B. P. Oldenburg and colleagues conclude that nitrogen probably is not the limiting nutritional factor, as once believed. Their report, scheduled for the Sept. 20 issue of ACS’ Energy & Fuels suggests that other essential microbial nutrients, such as phosphorous, are the limiting factors in the growth of biodegradation microbes.

Mercury compound found in fish damages pancreatic cells

Researchers in Taiwan say they have established for the first time that the mercury compound present as a contaminant in some seafood can damage insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. In their experiments, Shing-Hwa Liu and colleagues exposed cell cultures of insulin-producing beta cells to methylmercury. They used concentrations of methylmercury at about the same levels as people would consume in fish under the U. S. Food and Drug Administration's recommended limits.

Previous studies have shown that methylmercury is toxic to various cells. Liu and colleagues now have added pancreatic beta cells to that list. "Altogether, our data clearly indicate that methylmercury-induced oxidative stress causes pancreatic beta-cell apoptosis (programmed cell death) and dysfunction," they said in a report scheduled for the Aug. 21 issue of the ACS journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology.

Liu added in an interview: "Although there was lack of a firm clinical basis, some cellular and animal studies implied that methylmercury may have [the] ability to injury the pancreatic beta cells. The present study supplied the direct evidence of basic research that methylmercury-induced oxidative stress causes pancreatic beta cell apoptosis and dysfunction. Further research is needed on whether methylmercury exposure increases the risk of diabetes in humans."

Keeping meat in the pink without carbon monoxide

With critics urging a ban on use of carbon monoxide (CO) to keep packaged meat looking pink and fresh almost indefinitely, scientists are reporting that an extract of rosemary added to meat packaging keeps meat in the pink for weeks. Researchers in Spain added an extract of the popular herb to the polypropylene film used to package freshly cut meat in supermarket displays. Rosemary has a time-honored reputation as an antioxidant and food preservative.

That addition created "active packaging," the scientists explain in a report in the Sept. 6 issue of the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Such packaging goes beyond passively sealing food away from the environment, and plays an active role in keeping food fresh.

The rosemary-enhanced plastic film kept beef steaks looking pink and fresh for 14 days under conditions found in supermarkets. That represents an increase in average display life of two days, or about 17 percent, compared to meat packaged in a traditional modified atmosphere mixture of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas. "The usefulness of the present work is obvious and finds immediate application in the food industry," the researchers reported.

New medications are battling substance abuse and addiction

The number of medications for treating addictions ― one of the nation’s most serious public health problems ― has nearly doubled in recent years, along with a gradually expanding public willingness to use medication-based therapy, according to an article in the Sept. 25 issue of the ACS weekly news magazine, Chemical & Engineering News.

With September designated as National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery month, C&EN showcases the new pharmacotherapies, including the first new non-nicotine treatment for cigarette smokers in almost a decade. Written by senior correspondent Ann M. Thayer, the article also discusses new products for opioid abuse and alcohol dependence.

Thayer notes that addictions once were regarded largely as weaknesses in character or will. A better scientific understanding of addiction is slowly changing that mindset and leading to a wider exploration of medication-based treatments. Thayer points out, however, that most people with substance dependence or abuse problems do not get treatment of any kind, including behavioral therapies that can be effective.

With growing recognition that addiction disorders are chronic, relapsing diseases, pharmaceutical companies increasingly are viewing addiction as a target for drug development, the article indicates. Although only about 10 products are on the market, more than 30 other new pharmacotherapies are in various stages of development for alcohol, narcotic and nicotine dependences.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Audio of ACS Press Conferences
    These audio files are recordings of press conferences from the ACS National Meeting (Sept. 10-14) in San Francisco. They are a valuable source for quotations and background.

    Promising therapies with adult stem cells
    Conference Date: 9/13 at 12:00pm PT

    Progress on fighting bacterial infections; biohazards
    Conference Date: 9/11 at 10:00am PT

    Nanotubes show help with range of illnesses
    Conference Date: 9/11 at 12:00pm PT

    Low cost, super-efficient solar cells developed
    Conference Date: 9/12 at 12:00pm PT
  • ACS News Service Weblog
    Science, September & San Francisco
    Visit the ACS News Service’s newest weblog for reports from scientific sessions and other events at the ACS National Meeting in San Francisco.

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