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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: August 22, 2007

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The American Chemical Society (ACS) News Service Weekly PressPac (PressPac) offers information on reports selected from 36 major peer-reviewed journals and Chemical & Engineering News.

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This issue of the American Chemical Society (ACS) News Service Weekly Press Package (PressPac) is a special edition with selections from scientific presentations scheduled for the ACS' 234th national meeting in Boston. Our regular coverage of reports from ACS' 36 major peer-reviewed journals and Chemical & Engineering News will resume with the Aug. 29, 2007 edition.

Theme Topic: Biotechnology of Health and Wellness

Biotechnology of health and wellness is the featured theme of the 234th national meeting. In a program organized by ACS President Catherine T. ("Katie") Hunt, representatives from academia, government and industry will discuss a wide range of topics within this theme, including the challenges and opportunities of commercializing nanotechnology, functional foods, and obesity. To see ACS President Katie Hunt's unembargoed comments on the meeting and details of the program, go to http://www.acspresident.org.

News Items in this Edition

Skin-care industry skipping out on science?

The multi-billion-dollar global cosmetics and skin-care-product industry sometimes is beset by a me-too mindset in which research and development focuses on matching the competition rather than applying sound science to improve products, according to chemist Stig E. Friberg. As a result, it could be missing a golden opportunity to provide consumers with more effective products, he said.

As an example, Friberg points out that previously unknown changes occur in the structures of colloids used in skin care lotions. As a result, the lotion sitting in the bottle, he said, is actually different from the same lotion

applied to the skin.

Friberg has spent years in fundamental studies of the backbone of any lotion — a mixture or "emulsion" of oil and water. Along with a third ingredient, a surfactant that keeps the liquids from separating, emulsions are the basis of almost every skin lotion. Although the system may sound simplistic, Friberg said it's not as straightforward as scientists once believed.

Friberg's work has revealed that after application, evaporation causes a lotion's internal structure to change, a fact that has not captured the attention of the skin-care industry. Initially in a liquid phase, the structure transforms while on the skin to a more orderly state, such as a liquid crystalline or solid amorphous phase, that allows for a higher tendency for molecules to enter the skin, he said. Previously, scientists have assumed the structure of an emulsion remains intact as lotions evaporate.

Some forms of "good" cholesterol can be bad for the heart

'Good' cholesterol, renowned for its ability to protect against heart disease, can undergo detrimental changes in protein composition that make it 'bad' for the heart, according to a new laboratory study by researchers in Seattle, Wash.

Scientists long have suspected that there may be dysfunctional forms of so-called 'good' cholesterol, also called high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, that can lose their heart-protective effect. But the exact chemical composition of HDL, both good forms and bad, has remained largely unknown, researchers say.

In what is believed to be the most detailed analysis to date of the protein composition of HDL, Jay Heinecke and colleagues uncovered surprising new information about HDL, including previously unrecognized proteins that appear to play an important role in maintaining heart health. Their findings could one day lead to new, more accurate lab tests for heart disease as well as new, potentially life-saving treatments for the disease, which is the number one killer in the United States and other developed countries.

"Targeting HDL could represent a new horizon in heart disease diagnosis and treatment," Heinecke said. "But simply boosting HDL levels may not be enough to prevent heart disease. You might have to target the right proteins in HDL."

Hoofing it toward a safer source of collagen

Scientists are reporting an advance toward turning corn plants into natural factories for producing collagen, a protein widely used in food, medical and other products. The advance may lead to a safe, inexpensive source of the protein for manufacturers who now rely on material obtained from slaughterhouse waste, according to researchers.

Collagen is a component of skin, tendon, bone, cartilage and connective tissue of humans and other animals. Gelatin derived from collagen is a jelly-like substance used in a wide array of food products, ranging from ice cream and gelatin desserts to vitamin capsules, cosmetics and absorbable surgical sponges. To get the collagen, manufactures process the bones, hooves and tissues of cows and pigs that have been slaughtered for meat.

Responding to concern about the possible presence of infectious agents in animal by-products, scientists have been working on ways to produce human collagen from transgenic plants. These genetically engineered plants have the human gene that produces collagen. However, finding ways to recover and purify the protein, which is produced only in very low levels in plants, has remained a challenge.

Now, Charles Glatz and colleagues say they have developed a better process to harvest human collagen from transgenic corn. The method uses a three-step filtration system to separate the collagen from other corn proteins and maximize yields. Recent tests show the new purification method yields five to 10 times more collagen from corn than previous extraction methods, Glatz says.

High fructose corn syrup: New evidence points to increased diabetes risk

Researchers have found new evidence that soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may contribute to the development of diabetes, particularly in children. In a laboratory study of commonly consumed carbonated beverages, the scientists found that drinks containing the syrup had high levels of reactive compounds that have been shown by others to have the potential to trigger cell and tissue damage that could cause the disease, which is at epidemic levels.

HFCS is a sweetener found in many foods and beverages, including non-diet soda pop, baked goods, and condiments. It has become the sweetener of choice for many food manufacturers because it is considered more

economical, sweeter and easier to blend into beverages than table sugar. Some researchers have suggested that high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to an increased risk of diabetes as well as obesity, a claim

which the food industry disputes. Until now, little laboratory evidence has been available on the topic.

In the current study, Chi-Tang Ho and colleagues conducted chemical tests among 11 different carbonated soft drinks containing HFCS. They found 'astonishingly high' levels of reactive carbonyls in those beverages. These undesirable and highly-reactive compounds associated with "unbound" fructose and glucose molecules are believed to cause tissue damage, the researchers said. By contrast, reactive carbonyls are not present in table sugar, whose fructose and glucose components are "bound" and chemically stable, they noted.

Pioneering odor tests on plastic water pipe

"Fruity plastic" may seem like a connoisseur's description of the bouquet of a bottle of Chardonnay or Merlot gone bad. However, that was among several uncomplimentary terms that a panel of water "sensory experts" used to describe the odor of drinking water from the plastic piping that is finding its way into an increasing number of homes these days. The sampling was part of a pioneering research project on how plumbing materials affect the odor and taste of drinking water.

Andrea Dietrich and colleagues pointed out that a rash of costly pinhole leaks in recent years in commonly used copper water pipes has led to renewed interest in lower priced plastic pipes. They also noted that "most people expect their drinking water to have little or no flavor" and that any taste or odor in a glass of water can be "highly noticeable."

Aided by a human sensory panel to detect water odors and the use of chemical analyses of water samples, the researchers evaluated water odors associated with several different types of plastic pipes. They found that some plastic pipes had lower odor potential and leaked fewer organic materials than others, suggesting that choosing the right pipes might help improve the quality and odor of drinking water.

Toward a new generation of low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells

Solar energy, once regarded as costly and impractical, is now poised to play a bigger, brighter role in meeting future energy needs due to new materials and processes that offer lower costs and improved efficiencies, according to an article [insert link] scheduled for the Aug. 27 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine. With potential applications ranging from homes to offices to portable electronics, solar energy could soon become a common part of your daily lives.

The magazine's cover story, by C&EN senior editor Mitch Jacoby, includes interviews with of the world's leading solar energy experts. They describe the challenges of tapping into this rich energy source and the new materials and strategies that are emerging from their research.

The materials include semiconductor nanocrystals that can be formed into flexible sheets and networks of nanowires for improved electrical transport. Jacoby also describes new generations of promising yet inexpensive solar cells, including low-cost 'plastic' solar cells based on semiconducting polymers.

"It's tough to predict which class of materials and solar cell design will be the winning combination that generates a supply of clean, renewable, and affordable energy plentiful enough to make a significant contribution to the world's future energy needs," Jacoby writes. "The solution may come from new types of devices and novel materials yet to be discovered or from creative ways of using substances already in hand."

Journalists’ Resources

  • General Chemistry Glossary
    The General Chemistry Glossary can be found here.
  • 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 currently available for reading and downloading.
  • Sustainability Pledge from World’s Top Chemical Societies
    Presidents of six leading chemical societies, meeting in Paris, have pledged to cooperate in promoting sustainable development, responsible use of natural resources, and other efforts in which scientists protect and maintain the earth’s environment, resources, and inhabitants. The statement came from the American Chemical Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Chemical Society of Japan, the German Chemical Society, the French Chemical Society and the Dutch Chemical Society, which have a combined membership of nearly 300,000.
  • Check out ACS’ new YouTube video: Scientists Invade Boston!
  • 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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