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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Feb 07 15:42:03 EST 2007

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News Items in this Edition

Microbial Cellulose: Poised for a High-Profile Role in Biomedicine

Biotechnology’s next high-value product could be microbial cellulose, a form of cellulose produced naturally by bacteria that already has found some successful applications in medicine, according to an article in the current issue of ACS’ Biomacromolecules, a monthly journal.

In their review of worldwide research on microbial cellulose, the University of Texas’ R. Malcolm Brown Jr. and colleagues in Poland explain that it is chemically identical to the more-familiar plant cellulose, source of paper and other commercial products. However, cellulose produced by the bacterium Acetobacter xylinum has a unique nanostructure of fibers that make it ideal as a dressing to speed wound healing and for a range of other biomedical applications.

Microbial cellulose already has been used successfully in patients with severe burns, for instance, and as a replacement for small-diameter blood vessels, the scientists point out. Based on the review, they conclude that microbial cellulose is poised for use in a wide variety of medical devices and consumer products as soon as scientists develop a method to mass produce the material.

A Rapid New Process for Fabricating Microstructures from Protein

In an advance in microfabrication technology, scientists report development of a new method for rapidly engineering complex micro-scale patterns and three-dimensional microstructures from biocompatible protein.

Jason B. Shear and Bryan Kaehr describe using the laser technique to fabricate detailed shapes — such as the silhouette of a housefly and the State of Texas — by condensing (or crosslinking) proteins in solution into a solid matrix. Their study is scheduled for the Feb. 28 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication. The researchers also used the process to fabricate minute 3-D structures, including 1- and 2-story microcontainers that were used to trap, incubate and grow as few as a single living bacterium into colonies. Such traps could have a variety of uses, including studying the formation of biofilms, which are the source of human health concerns.

The technique, mask-directed multiphoton lithography, is modeled after the photolithography processes widely used to transfer electronic circuits onto a semiconductor wafer by projecting light through a pattern or “mask.” However, the new method uses a special laser to scan objects or patterns printed on transparency film with an ordinary desktop printer. The silhouette ultimately is refocused into the protein solution using the objective lens of a microscope. Because protein molecules must be extremely close to the laser focus to undergo crosslinking into solid material, this method allows structures to be created with complex 3-D shapes. The process takes only minutes, researchers report.

New Potential Health Benefit of Olive Oil for Peptic Ulcer Disease

Already fabled for an array of health benefits, extra virgin olive oil — a centerpiece of the Mediterranean Diet — may have a new role in helping to prevent and treat Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections, which cause millions of cases of gastritis and peptic ulcer disease each year, researchers in Spain report.

Manuel Brenes and colleagues cite past studies showing that green tea, cranberry juice and certain other natural foods inhibit the growth of H. pylori (which infects the stomach lining), leading researchers to recommend consumption of those foods. None of the numerous studies on olive oil, however, has tested its effects on H. pylori, they note in a study scheduled for the Feb. 21 issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a biweekly publication.

Brenes and colleagues used laboratory experiments to demonstrate that under simulated conditions the healthful phenolic compounds in extra virgin olive oil remain stable in the acidic environment of the stomach for hours. In laboratory cultures, those substances had a strong antibacterial effect against eight strains of H. pylori, including antibiotic-resistant strains.

“These results open the possibility of considering extra virgin olive oil a chemoprotective agent for peptic ulcer or gastric cancer, but this bioactivity must be confirmed in vivo in the future,” they conclude.

Toward A Three-In-One Airport Passenger and Baggage Security Scanner

Scientists in California and Michigan report development toward a “universal point detection system,” ¬ a long sought three-in-one machine that screens airline passengers and baggage for explosive, chemical and biological threats at the same time. George R. Farquar and colleagues describe latest tests on the device, which uses a technology called single-particle aerosol mass spectrometry (SPAMS), in an article scheduled for the March 15 issue of the ACS’ Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.

In previous research, the scientists developed and tested effectiveness of a SPAMS system for the detection of chemical and biological agents. The new research expands SPAMS’ capabilities to include several kinds of explosives that have been used worldwide in improvised explosive devices and other terrorist attacks.

The study concludes that SPAMS has the potential to detect the presence of explosives even if only one dust-speck-sized particle weighing one trillionth of a gram, (one gram is one-twenty-eighth of an ounce), is present on an individual’s clothing or baggage. “SPAMS is a sensitive, specific, reliable option for airport and baggage screening,” the report states. “The ability of the SPAMS system to determine the identity of a single particle is a valuable asset when the target analyte is dangerous in small quantities or has no legal reason for being present in an environment.”

Coal Tar-Based Pavement Sealers Implicated As a Source of Urban Water Pollution

A water pollution episode in Austin, Texas, is raising questions about the environmental impact of coal tar-based sealants used on thousands of parking lots throughout the United States, according to an article scheduled for the Feb. 12 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN senior editor Cheryl Hogue explains that the episode involved polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) pollution found near a popular Austin swimming spot. Consisting of more than 100 compounds, including several suspected human carcinogens, PAHs originate in numerous sources including the coal tar used in asphalt sealants — mainly those sold to commercial applicators.

After scientists linked the Austin PAH pollution to runoff from coal tar-based sealant applied to an apartment building parking lot, the city of Austin banned sale of these coatings. Municipalities in Wisconsin and Florida are considering a similar ban, and two major retailers, The Home Depot and Lowe’s, have discontinued sale of coal tar-based sealants, the article states.

Manufacturers of coal tar-based sealcoats dispute the link, maintaining that Austin officials were premature in instituting the ban following publication of research in 2005 in the ACS journal, Environmental Science & Technology about the source of the Austin pollution. Manufacturers claim that most PAHs in Austin waterways originate from the city’s highways, which collect PAHs from motor vehicle exhaust, tire wear and oil drips, the article adds.

Journalists’ Resources

  • General Chemistry Glossary
  • An Editor Comments on the New Climate Change Report
    Jerald L. Schnoor’s editorial from the current issue of ACS’s Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.
  • ACS Chemical Biology Highlights
    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 National Meeting — Chicago, March 25-29

The American Chemical Society’s 233rd national meeting promises to be one of 2007’s biggest and most productive science conferences, and a bonanza of spot news, feature topics and background for reporters covering science, medicine, energy, environment, food, business or the environment. We expect more than 9,000 scientific papers on topics spanning science’s horizons from astronomy to zoology. Visit the National Meeting page for preliminary program information, media registration and housing.

Special Event: Chicago News Media Tour/Briefing/Reception

News media are invited to a special event at the Art Institute of Chicago, scheduled during the ACS national meeting. The Art Institute, Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory are partners in a noted art conservation science program. Reporters will get briefings from program scientists and a behind-the-scenes tour of science and conservation labs, followed by a reception in the beautiful environs of the Institute. The event begins at 4 p.m. on March 26. Space is strictly limited, so register early by contacting Michael Woods at m_woods@acs.org or 202-872-6293.

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.