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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: March 14, 2007

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News Items in this Edition

Mother Nature’s Medicine Cabinet

When it comes to stocking pharmacy shelves with drugs to treat human ills, Mother Nature still is the ultimate medicinal chemist, a study scheduled for the March 23 issue of ACS’ Journal of Natural Products, a monthly publication, suggests.

In the study, the National Cancer Institute’s David J. Newman and Gordon M. Craig conclude that only 30 percent of the critically important “new chemical entities (NCEs)” introduced between 1981 and mid-2006 were synthetic and not based on a naturally-occurring compound. NCEs are totally new drugs, never before available, rather than modified versions of existing medications sometimes termed “me-too” drugs. The remaining 70 percent of the NCEs introduced during the last 25 years were natural products — medicines obtained from sources such as plants and animals, derived from natural products or chemically designed to mimic natural products.

Natural products range from aspirin (originally obtained from the willow tree) to taxol, the anti-cancer drug discovered in the Pacific yew tree. About half of all anti-cancer drugs introduced since the 1940s are either natural products or medicines derived directly from natural products, the study notes.

The new review of natural products’ role as sources of new drugs is an expanded and updated version of reports published in 1997 and 2003. “We strongly advocate expanding, not decreasing, the exploration of Nature as a source of novel active ingredients that may serve as the leads and scaffolds for elaboration into desperately needed efficacious drugs for a multitude of disease indications,” the study concludes.

New Light-Sensitive Polymers May Permit "Etching" Images Into Vegetation

Scientists in Ohio are reporting development of the first “biophotoresists,” new compounds that may be a counterpart to the light sensitive materials used in key industrial processes — such as photolithography and photoengraving — to etch patterns for electronic circuitry and other purposes on silicon chips and other surfaces. The new compounds could expand such patterning capabilities to biological materials such as vegetation on the ground or coatings of algae, the researchers said.

In the study, scheduled for the current issue of ACS’ Biomacromolecules, a monthly journal, Douglas C. Neckers and Andrei V. Fedorov describe syntheses of new forms of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. The new compounds are photosensitive, able to change from liquids into polymers when exposed to light. Laboratory tests showed that the compounds had herbicidal action against strains of algae, E. coli and other organisms.

Those two characteristics suggest that the compounds “have a valuable potential for the development of new bioactive coatings with herbicidal properties,” the report states. The researchers added: “Given that photopolymers have wide use in coatings, paints and varnishes, these results raise the possibility of surface coatings with herbicidal activity. In the abstract, one can also envision surfaces imaged with herbicides allowing plant growth or not depending on the image.”

Tomatoes Grow In Diluted Seawater and Produce More Natural Antioxidants

With critical water shortages looming in some parts of the world, scientists in Italy are reporting that diluted seawater can be used to grow tomatoes and actually results in fruit with significantly higher levels of healthful antioxidant compounds.

“The controlled use of alternative water resources, such as diluted seawater, could be a valid tool to face drought in the Mediterranean region,” the researchers say in a report scheduled for the April 4 issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication. “Our results show that the antioxidant-related nutritional value of tomatoes is significantly improved when the fruits are picked at the red-ripe stage and when the plants are exposed to moderate salinity stress conditions, such as those determined by the application of diluted seawater (10 percent).”

In the study, Riccardo Izzo and colleagues set out to determine if the combined effects of diluted seawater and ripening could improve the beneficial nutritional properties of tomatoes, long recognized as a rich source of natural antioxidant compounds. They grew various types of tomatoes, including those commonly used for salads, under different levels of salinity and analyzed the fruit for nutrients. The higher antioxidant levels in tomatoes grown in 10 percent seawater probably resulted from the plants’ response to salt-related stress, the researchers suggest.

Toward Safer Disposal of Animals with Mad Cow and Other Prion Diseases

Burying prion-infected carcasses of cattle, deer and other animals in lime may actually enhance the spread of those infectious proteins through soil, a new study suggests. Placing quicklime on carcasses once was thought to be the best way to foster quick decay of bodies and to prevent the spread of disease. The study is scheduled for the April 15 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

In the study, Joel A. Pedersen and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin cite the need for safe methods of disposing of prion-infected carcasses, noting that prions can resist harsh conditions such as strong disinfectants and dry-heat temperatures of 1,100°F that destroy other disease-causing agents and that prions can remain infectious in the soil for at least three years. Pedersen and colleagues investigated the effect of different conditions (pH, salinity) on the adsorption, or attachment, of prions to sand particles.

They found that prions become less firmly attached to sand particles, and thus potentially more mobile, under alkaline conditions. These conditions would be produced by lime, as well as in older landfills. In the natural environment, acidic conditions may keep prions near the soil surface, increasing the risk that animals will ingest prions and become infected, the report says. The team is conducting further research to determine whether these expectations are borne out.

U. S. Envisions a New Generation of Nuclear Weapons

Almost 62 years after detonation of the first atomic bombs, the United States is considering controversial proposals to produce a new generation of nuclear weapons and revamp its nuclear weapons complex, according to an article scheduled for the March 19 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN senior editor Jeff Johnson points out that the proposals come at a time of growing fears about potential new nuclear powers, such as North Korea and Iran, and potential diversion of nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees design, production and maintenance of nuclear weapons, developed the proposals.

One part of the plan, for instance, calls for production of the “renewable, replacement warhead (RRW),” a new nuclear weapon that NNSA says will be easier and environmentally cleaner to manufacture and more difficult for potential terrorists to disassemble or detonate. The article describes details of the RRW, envisioned for production by 2012, and discusses differing opinions about the new proposals for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, now believed to number about 10,000 warheads.

Journalists’ Resources

  • General Chemistry Glossary
    The General Chemistry Glossary can be found here.
  • 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 the “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 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.

On the Horizon: 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.

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.