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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: August 29, 2007

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News Items in this Edition

Fingerprinting fake coffee

With prices of gourmet coffee approaching sticker-shock levels, scientists in Illinois are reporting development of a method to “fingerprint” coffee to detect when corn has been mixed in to short-change customers. Their study is in the Aug. 8 issue of ACS’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly journal.

Gulab Jham and colleagues point out that such adulteration of Brazilian coffee is among the most serious problems affecting coffee quality — with cereal grains, coffee twigs, and brown sugar sometimes mixed into the genuine article. Their research focuses on detecting corn, probably the most widely used adulterant.

The study describes development and use on six popular coffee brands of a method for analyzing one form of vitamin E in Brazilian coffee. Because roasted corn samples have high concentrations of vitamin E, it serves as a fingerprint for adulteration with corn. In laboratory tests they found that one brand of Brazilian coffee contained almost 9 percent corn. Although noting that their results are preliminary, the scientists say their new method appears to be “a significant improvement” over existing tests to detect corn adulteration.

Nanomagnetic sponges to clean precious works of art

Chemists in Italy are reporting “a real breakthrough” in technology for cleaning and conserving priceless oil paintings, marble sculptures and other works of art in an article in the Aug. 14 issue of ACS’ Langmuir, a bi-weekly journal. In the report, Piero Baglioni and colleagues describe development and successful testing on artworks of “nanomagnetic sponges” that could have a range of other applications in cosmetics, detergents, and biotechnology.

Highlighting potential uses in art conservation, the report explains that conservators often use solvents and other cleaning agents in a gel formulation, somewhat similar in consistency to gelatin desert. Compared to liquids, gels have less of a tendency to soak deep into the surface of artwork and cause damage. Gels, however, are difficult to remove from painted surfaces and may leave behind undesirable residues.

The new nanomagnetic sponges — made from nanoparticles so small that about 10,000 would fit across the diameter of a human hair — overcome that problem, the report states. The sponges can be loaded with solvents and other cleaning agents, and cut with a knife or scissors into desired shapes for application to specific, soiled areas of a painting. When the cleaning is done, conservators can remove the gel with a magnet. “The nanomagnetic gel represents the most advanced and versatile system for cleaning and will have a dramatic impact on the conventional methods used in the conservation field and in several other fields where fine tuning of the release or uptake of confined material is required,” the report states.

Tiny carbon nanotubes show big germ-fighting potential

In nanoscience’s version of a David-and-Goliath story, scientists in Connecticut are reporting the first direct evidence that carbon nanotubes have powerful antimicrobial activity, a discovery that could help fight the growing problem of antibiotic resistant infections. Their research on so-called single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) is scheduled for publication in the current (Aug. 28) issue of ACS’ Langmuir, a bi-weekly journal.

Menachem Elimelech and colleagues point out that past research on the toxicity of SWNTs has focused on their adverse human and environmental effects. These microscopic cylinders of carbon — thousands of times smaller than a human hair — are one of the most promising raw materials for commercial and industrial applications of nanotechnology in the 21st century. Their potential uses range from biosensors to new drug delivery systems.

“Surprisingly, however, no published studies exist on the direct interaction of SWNTs with microbes,” their report states. “Our experiments provide the first direct evidence that highly purified SWNTs exhibit strong antimicrobial activity and indicate that severe cell membrane damage by direct contact with SWNTs is the likely mechanism responsible for the toxicity to model bacteria. These observations point to the potential use of SWNTs as building blocks for antimicrobial materials.”

Toward improved drug-delivery: Coating gives nanowires easy access to cells

Scientists in Idaho and Korea are reporting development of a protein coating that may turn nanowires into a new drug delivery system that could allow use of lower doses of medicine that are less harmful to normal cells. In a report scheduled for the Sept. 12 issue of ACS’ Nano Letters, a monthly journal, they describe use of the coating to enable silica nanowires to enter cultured human cells and deliver a lethal dose of toxin.

Gregory Bohach, David McIlroy, Carolyn Hovde, and their colleagues point that nanowires and other nanomaterials (NMs), which are 50,000 times smaller in diameter than a human hair, have great potential as new drug delivery systems. NMs may penetrate tumors more easily, for instance, and could be coated with antibodies or other materials that home in on target cells while sparing normal cells.

One roadblock, however, involves finding ways to enable NMs to easily penetrate cells. The researchers report nanowires coated with the protein fibronectin penetrate cells more easily than uncoated nanowires. In experiments with human and animal cells, they showed that coated nanowires can enter and deliver a toxic agent called StxA1 that killed the cells. “This indicates that nanowires can carry StxA1 and potentially other toxic or therapeutic agents into cells,” the researchers said.

Memory enhancement drugs show promise but face growing scrutiny

In our aging society, with an increased urgency to develop new compounds that target serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, memory enhancement drugs are becoming a big business. But these same drugs are also creating a growing ethical controversy over their potential off-label uses, such as taking these drugs as “performance enhancers” to gain a competitive advantage in the workplace. These issues, along with the biochemistry of memory, are explored in an article scheduled for the Sept. 3 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

Right now, there are only a handful of memory-enhancing drugs on the market. In the C&EN cover story, senior editor Sophie L. Rovner describes work at several companies, from small start-ups to pharmaceutical giants, that are developing and testing a variety of memory enhancing products that show promise for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke and schizophrenia. In the continuing search for better drugs, even familiar compounds such as nicotine and coffee are being explored for their potential memory-enhancing effects, Rovner notes.

Despite their promise, there’s growing regulatory and ethical concern about the use of such drugs for non-medical purposes. This includes using memory-enhancing compounds as stimulants to gain a competitive edge in the workplace or even on exams, which could result in unfair advantages over people who do not use the drugs. The possibility of off-label or recreational uses of these drugs could ultimately limit their wider acceptance, the article suggests. For better or for worse, memory-enhancing drugs are poised to play a bigger role in the future.

For Wired Readers

  • Science Elements: New ACS Podcast
    The ACS Office of Communications is podcasting PressPac contents in order to make cutting-edge scientific discoveries from ACS journals available to a broad public audience at no charge. Science Elements includes selected content from ACS’s prestigious suite of 36 peer-reviewed scientific journals and Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’s weekly news magazine. Those journals, published by the world’s largest scientific society, contain about 30,000 scientific reports from scientists around the world each year. The reports include discoveries in medicine, health, nutrition, energy, the environment and other fields that span science’s horizons from astronomy to zoology. Podcaster for Science Elements is Steve Showalter, Ph.D., a chemist at the U. S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and ACS member.
  • A Podcast of ACS President Catherine T. (Katie) Hunt’s Science Friday interview with Ira Flatow of National Public Radio
  • YouTube Videos
    Detergents with an On/Off Switch

    Health & Wellness for Kids

    It’s Alive!!!

Journalists’ Resources

  • Press releases and more from ACS' 234th national meeting Aug. 19-23, 2007
    A treasure trove of news sources, background material and story ideas is available from the ACS' latest National Meeting. Reporters can view press releases, search an archive with abstracts of 9,500 scientific presentations and 1,000 non-technical summaries of those presentations, and access other resources at:
    http://www.acspresscenter.org/index.php
  • New ACS Annual Report
    The 2006 ACS annual report, A New Vision at Work, can be a valuable resource for journalists trying to keep pace with chemistry and the multiple fields of science that involve chemistry. The report features a series of commentaries by chemists, including Nobel Laureate Robert H. Grubbs, on chemistry’s role in working toward better medications, more nutritious food, sources of renewable energy, and other innovations. The newly published report is available for reading and downloading at http://www.acs.org/annualreport.
  • General Chemistry Glossary
  • PressPac Archives



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