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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Apr 25 16:42:03 EDT 2007

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News Items in this Edition

Commercial Cat Foods Contain Less Than Expected Amounts of a Key Nutrient

Commercial cat food may provide domestic cats with substantially less lysine — an amino acid essential for good health — than previously believed, scientists from New Zealand are reporting in a study scheduled for the May 2 issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a biweekly publication.

Shane M. Rutherfurd and colleagues used a new method to analyze the amounts of lysine actually available for nourishment in 20 commercial cat foods. Lysine is an “essential” amino acid, meaning that animals must get ample amounts in the diet. It is important in a range of body functions, including absorption of calcium and building muscle protein.

Termed Biolysine, the new method more accurately measures the amount of lysine remaining in food after processing, which destroys some of the amino acid. The researchers found that the old, traditional test significantly overestimates the amount of nutritionally available lysine. “This overestimate ranged from 41 percent to 143 percent for the moist food and from 18 percent to 90 percent for the dry foods,” their report states.

Easing Concerns about Nanomaterials’ Impact on Soil Microbes

In an advance toward understanding the environmental effects of manufactured nanomaterials, scientists in Indiana are reporting that fullerenes have little impact on natural microbes in soil. These communities of bacteria and other microorganisms play critical roles in soil health, which include the recycling of nutrients tied up in organic materials so they can be used by plants.

Ronald F. Turco and colleagues point out that nanomaterials may be released to the environment in the future, with emergence of a nanomaterials industry that involves large-scale manufacture of fullerenes (C60), carbon nanotubes and other substances. “Using C60 as a model, we provide the first report on the impact of manufactured nanomaterials on the microbial aspects of soil,” the scientists state in a report scheduled for the May 1 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal. “This is a key first step in establishing an understanding of the environmental impact of C60.”

Previous studies suggested that carbon nanomaterials had a toxic effect on microbes. Nobody had run the test in soils before. The new study was done with soil that contained organic material and salts found naturally in soil. These materials may tie-up nanomaterials, thus reducing their bioavailability and toxicity, the researchers indicated.

High Doses of Phytochemicals in Teas and Supplements Could Be Unhealthy

Those phytochemicals — natural plant-based compounds that give fruits and vegetables a reputation as healthy food — could be unhealthy if consumed in high doses in dietary supplements, teas or other preparations, scientists in New Jersey have concluded after a review of studies on the topic.

In their article, scheduled for the current issue of ACS’s Chemical Research in Toxicology, a monthly journal, Chung S. Yang and colleagues analyze available data on the toxic potential of polyphenols. That group of dietary phytochemicals includes flavonoids, whose suggested beneficial effects in fruits and vegetables include prevention of heart disease and cancer. The data was from studies done in humans and laboratory animals.

The report cites specific examples of toxic effects, including reports of liver, kidney, and intestinal toxicity related to consumption of high doses of green tea-based dietary supplements. The risk of such toxicity may be greater in individuals taking certain medications, or with genetic traits, that increase the bioavailability of phytochemicals, the researchers said. Citing the need for new studies on the topic, the report concludes: “Only when such data are compared to the evidence for beneficial health effects can a balanced judgment be made regarding the potential utility of these compounds for disease prevention and treatment.”

Toward A Banana-Based Vaccine for Hepatitis B

Bananas have emerged as the best candidate to deliver a bite-sized vaccine for hepatitis B virus (HBV) to millions of people in developing countries, according to an article scheduled for the June 1 issue of ACS’ Biotechnology Progress, a bi-monthly journal co-published with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

In the article, India’s V. A. Bapat and colleagues update and review worldwide research on efforts to genetically engineer plants as biofactories for the production of vaccines. They focus on transferring genes to produce HBV vaccine, noting that there already are 350 million carriers of hepatitis B worldwide, with 1 million new cases annually. An estimated 75 million -100 million of those infected individuals may die from liver cirrhosis or liver cancer as a result, the article adds.

The authors explain that plant-based production of an oral hepatitis B vaccine has economic and other advantages over the existing injectable vaccine. Researchers so far have successfully engineered several plants — including banana, potato, lettuce, carrot, and tobacco — to produce HBV vaccines. They explain why banana appears to be the ideal production and delivery vehicle for HBV vaccine, and the further research and development needed to exploit bananas in the global battle against HBV.

Seeking New Ways of Using Carbon Dioxide in Fuels and Other Products

New research aimed at finding ways to use carbon dioxide to make fuels, plastics, and other products and materials could easily triple the amount of this key greenhouse gas put to practical use, rather than released into the atmosphere or simply captured and buried underground, according to an article scheduled for the April 30 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article C&EN senior editor Stephen K. Ritter points out that the global chemical industry already uses about 115 million tons of CO2 annually as a chemical feedstock, that is, as a raw material to manufacture other chemicals and products. Products routinely produced from CO2 range from aspirin to fertilizer. Even a major scale-up in the industrial use of CO2 would hardly put a dent in the emissions and buildup of this greenhouse gas, however. Since global CO2 emissions (mainly from coal-fired electric power plants) total an estimated 24 billion tons, technology for capturing and storing the gas still are essential in a battle against global warming, the article explains.

Even with that proviso, Ritter points out that increased chemical industry use of CO2 could be an important part of a multi-faceted program to control global warming. The article describes a wide range of research projects underway in academia and industry to find practical uses for CO2. One process under investigation in the United Kingdom, for instance, focuses on converting CO2 into formic acid, which could be used to power fuel cells for electric vehicles and a raw material to make other fuels. Another promising process, among many being developed in the United States, involves making polycarbonate plastics that contain up to 50 percent CO2 by weight.

Journalists’ Resources

  • General Chemistry Glossary
    The General Chemistry Glossary is an online resource that can help you to find definitions to common—and uncommon—chemical terms.
  • 60-Second Science: ACS Audio Clips
    Listen to Science news podcasts from the American Chemical Society.
  • News, Features, Background, Sources from ACS National Meeting
    Access news, features, background and sources
    from the ACS National Meeting, March 25-29 in Chicago.
  • Earth Day, April 22
    ACS Video Contest for Students

    April 10 is the deadline for entries in the ACS’ video contest for college and university students. The cash-award competition is part of our “Chemists Celebrate Earth Day” observance.

    ACS Earth Day Poetry Contest

    Find more information on ACS’ illustrated haiku contest for students in grades Kindergarten-12.
  • ACS Chemical Biology
    Highlights from the American Chemical Society journal, ACS Chemical Biology, are now available on EurekAlert!, the online science news service for reporters. ACS Chemical Biology is a monthly journal exploring cellular function from both chemical and biological perspectives. In addition to research papers and reviews, the journal also publishes “Spotlight” — current research in chemical biology from other journals; “Profile” — experts in the field; and “Points of View” — comments from leading scientists. The journal’s Web site is updated weekly with new content, and features a WIKI and an “Ask the Expert” section.

Mark Your Calendars

ACS Regional Meeting, May 16-19, Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Section, American Chemical Society, and Ursinus College will host the 39th ACS Middle Atlantic Regional Meeting.

11th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference

This pioneering conference on one of the hottest topics in chemistry will be held June 26-29, 2007 at the Capital Hilton hotel in Washington, DC.

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.