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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Sep 05 16:42:03 EDT 2007

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News Items in this Edition

PCBs may threaten killer whale populations for 30-60 years

Orcas or killer whales may continue to suffer the effects of contamination with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) for the next 30 – 60 years, despite 1970s-era regulations that have reduced overall PCB concentrations in the environment, researchers in Canada report. Their study, which calls for better standards to protect these rare marine mammals, is scheduled for the Sept. 15 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

In the study, Brendan Hickie and Peter S. Ross and colleagues point out that orcas face a daunting array of threats to survival, including ship traffic, reduced abundance of prey and environmental contamination. Orcas, which reach a length exceeding 25 feet and weights of 4-5 tons, already are the most PCB-contaminated creatures on Earth. Scientists are trying to determine how current declines in PCBs in the environment may affect orcas throughout an exceptionally long life expectancy, which ranges up to 90 years for females and 50 years for males.

The new study used mathematical models and measurements of PCBs in salmon (orcas’ favorite food) and ocean floor cores to recreate a PCB exposure history to estimate PCB concentrations in killer whales over time. It concluded that the “threatened” northern population of 230 animals will likely face health risks until at least 2030, while the endangered southern population of 85 orcas may face such risks until at least 2063. PCBs make whales more vulnerable to infectious disease, impair reproduction, and impede normal growth and development, the researchers say.

“The findings provide conservationists, regulators, and managers with benchmarks against which the effectiveness of mitigative steps can be measured and tissue residue guidelines can be evaluated,” the study reported. “The results of our study on PCBs may paint an ominous picture for risks associated with emerging chemicals, as the concentrations of structurally-related PBDEs are doubling every 4 years in marine mammals,” researchers added.

Blocking formation of toxic plaques implicated in type 2 diabetes

Amid growing evidence that the same abnormal clumping of proteins in Alzheimer’s disease also contributes to type-2 diabetes, scientists in New York are reporting discovery of a potent new compound that reduces formation of those so-called amyloid plaques. Their study is scheduled for the Sept. 5 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.

The report cites evidence correlating increases in amyloid formation in the pancreas with increases in severity and rate of progression of type-2 diabetes, which affects almost 20 million Americans and is rapidly rising worldwide. Deposits of the abnormal protein damage and destroy insulin-producing “islet” cells in the pancreas. Researchers have been seeking potential new medicines that block formation of an abnormal, misfolded protein called islet amyloid polypeptide (IAPP), which may play a key role in the cell destruction.

In the new study, Daniel Raleigh, Andisheh Abedini and Fangli Meng found that changing a single amino acid in human IAPP’s structure transformed it from one of the most potent amyloid-forming substances into a powerful inhibitor of amyloid formation. In laboratory studies, they showed that the mutant IAPP significantly reduced the amount of amyloid formed. In addition to opening the door for better IAPP inhibitors in type-2 diabetes, the findings provide potentially important insights into the formation and treatment of amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other conditions, the researchers say.

Magnets can boost production of ethanol for fuel

In a finding that could reduce the cost of ethanol fuel, researchers in Brazil report success in using low frequency magnetic waves to significantly boost the amount of ethanol produced through the fermentation of sugar. Their study is scheduled for the Oct. 5 issue of ACS’ Biotechnology Progress, a bi-monthly journal.

While bioethanol (ethanol produced from corn and other plants) is a promising alternative to fossil fuels, it currently is expensive and inefficient to make. An intensive research effort now is underway to improve production methods for this biofuel, which is expected to be the cornerstone of the renewable fuel industry.

In a new study, Victor Perez and colleagues showed that yeast-based fermentation of sugar cane — the main source of bioethanol in Brazil — in the presence of extremely low frequency magnetic waves boosted ethanol production by 17 percent. The scientists also showed that ethanol production was faster, taking two hours less than standard fermentation methods. “The results presented in this report suggest that an extremely low frequency magnetic field induces alterations in ethanol production by S. cervisiae [yeast] and that the magnetic field treatment can be easily implemented at an industrial scale,” the article states.

Discovery promises more nutritional cassava (yucca) for developing world

An intensive international effort to improve the nutritional value of cassava — a staple food for millions of poverty stricken people in sub-Sahara Africa and other areas — has led to development of a New form of cassava that may be easier to digest than other varieties. A report on the advance is scheduled for the Sept. 5 issue of ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

Also known as yucca or manioc, the roots of the plant are similar to potatoes and are often eaten boiled or deep fried. The roots are also used to make flour, tapioca, and a wide range of other food products. While the roots are low in protein and vitamins, they are an abundant source of starch. But the starch contains relatively high levels of amylose, which can be difficult to digest.

In the new study, Hernan Ceballos and colleagues identified a variety of cassava with less than 3 percent amylose, compared to 18-24 percent of the hard-to-digest material in traditional cassava. “This is the first report of a natural mutation in cassava that drastically reduces amylose content in root starch,” the study states. This mutation may also be better suited for the production of bioethanol, it adds.

“Lung on a chip” and other marvels from microfluidic devices

Tiny new laboratory tools termed microfluidic devices are helping biomedical researchers to better understand the physiological and chemical processes underlying high blood pressure, stroke, sickle cell disease and other disorders, according to an article scheduled for the Sept.10 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

Among the exciting developments described in the article is a “lung on a chip” device that will give researchers new insights into fluid dynamics in the diseased lung — a key to new treatments for pneumonia, cystic fibrosis and asthma.

In the C&EN cover story, senior editor Celia Henry Arnaud describes how microfluidic devices, which include such features as micrometer-scale channels and wells as part of sophisticated “lab-on-a-chip” instruments, provide unprecedented biological realism needed to shed light on today’s most challenging medical problems. The devices enable scientists to study the kinds of fluid movements and chemical interactions that occur in cells, tissues, and even organs in ways that aren’t possible with test tubes and Petri dishes, Arnaud notes.

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.
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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
    .
  • ACS’ Latest 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.
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