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’ 235th national meeting in New Orleans. Our regular coverage of reports from ACS’ 36 major peer-reviewed journals and Chemical & Engineering News will resume with the April 16, 2008, edition. This information is intended for your personal use in news gathering and reporting and should not be distributed to others. Anyone using advance ACS News Service Weekly PressPac information for stocks or securities dealing may be guilty of insider trading under the federal Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
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Many scientists view atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, as a localized disease characterized by the build up of fatty plaques in the arteries, which can eventually cause heart attacks and strokes. Now, in a finding that challenges conventional knowledge, researchers in New York and North Carolina report that plaques formed in arteries are associated with certain harmful chemical reactions that can contribute to damage in the lungs, liver, and other organs.
The findings suggest that the effects of atherosclerosis are more widespread than previously believed, the researchers say. The study could lead to new targets for developing drugs that could help prevent or reduce these chemical changes that appear to accompany heart disease, the number one cause of death in the U.S., according to chemist Rita Upmacis.
Scientists are closing in on the root causes of the disease. One of the more promising lines of research focuses on the body’s production of nitrotyrosine, a chemical which has been linked to Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer, and other disorders.
In the new study, Upmacis and colleagues worked with laboratory mice that have atherosclerosis. Mice that are genetically prone to atherosclerosis and fed a high-fat diet developed high levels of nitrotyrosine in their heart, lung, liver, and kidney. By contrast, mice that were fed regular diets showed no such increase. The rise in nitrotyrosine levels suggests that high-fat diets in animals with atherosclerosis can help trigger nitrotyrosine accumulation in the proteins of various organs, the scientists say. — MTS
ARTICLE #1 EMBARGOED FOR: Wednesday, April 9, 2:00 p.m.., Central Standard Time
Rita K. Upmacis, Ph.D.
Weill Medical College of Cornell University
New York, New York 10021
Chemists report development of a “revolutionary” process for converting plant sugars into hydrogen, which could be used to cheaply and efficiently power vehicles equipped with hydrogen fuel cells without producing any pollutants. The process involves combining plant sugars, water, and a cocktail of powerful enzymes to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide under mild reaction conditions.
The new system is the world’s most efficient method for producing hydrogen, according to lead researcher Y.-H. Percival Zhang, a biochemical engineer. The new system helps solve the three major technical barriers to the so-called “hydrogen economy,” he says. Those roadblocks involve how to produce low-cost sustainable hydrogen, how to store hydrogen, and how to distribute it efficiently.
“This is revolutionary work,” says Zhang. “This has opened up a whole new direction in hydrogen research. With technology improvement, sugar-powered vehicles could come true eventually.”
While recognized as a clean, sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, hydrogen production is expensive and inefficient. Most traditional commercial production methods rely on fossil fuels, such as natural gas, while innovations like microbial fuel cells still yield low levels of hydrogen. Researchers worldwide thus are urgently looking for better ways to produce the gas from renewable resources.
Zhang and colleagues believe they have found the most promising hydrogen-producing system to date from plant biomass. The researchers also believe they can produce hydrogen from cellulose, which has a chemical formula similar to starch but is far more difficult to break down. — MTS
ARTICLE #2 EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Wednesday, April 9, 3:15 p.m., Central Standard Time
Y-H. Percival Zhang, Ph.D.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Washing fresh fruits and vegetables before eating may reduce the risk of food poisoning and those awful episodes of vomiting and diarrhea. But washing alone — even with chlorine disinfectants — may not be enough, according to a new study by researchers in Pennsylvania.
Studies show that certain disease-causing microbes are masters at playing hide-and-go seek with such chemical sanitizers. These bacteria can make their way inside the leaves of lettuce, spinach and other vegetables and fruit, where surface treatments cannot reach. In addition, microbes can organize themselves into tightly knit communities called biofilms that coat fruits and vegetables and protect the bacteria from harm. This kind of bacterial community can harbor multiple versions of infectious, disease-causing bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli.
Now, new findings from Brendan A. Niemira and colleagues suggest that irradiation, a food treatment currently being reviewed by the FDA, can effectively kill internalized pathogens that are beyond the reach of conventional chemical sanitizers.
Irradiation exposes food to a source of electron beams, creating positive and negative charges. It disrupts the genetic material of living cells, inactivating parasites and destroying pathogens and insects in food, including E. coli and Salmonella, the scientists say. — SG
ARTICLE #3 EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Thursday, April 10, 9:00 a.m., Central Standard Time
Brendan A. Niemira
Agricultural Research Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture
Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania 19038
Fifteen hundred years ago, tribes people from the central Amazon basin mixed their soil with charcoal derived from animal bone and tree bark. Today, at the site of this charcoal deposit, scientists have found some of the richest, most fertile soil in the world. Now this ancient, remarkably simple farming technique seems far ahead of the curve, holding promise as a carbon-negative strategy to rein in world hunger as well as greenhouse gases.
Scientists in Delaware report that charcoal derived from heated biomass has an unprecedented ability to improve the fertility of soil — one that surpasses compost, animal manure, and other well-known soil conditioners.
They also suggest that this so-called “biochar” profoundly enhances the natural carbon seizing ability of soil. Dubbed “black gold agriculture,” scientists say this “revolutionary” farming technique can provide a cheap, straight-forward strategy to reduce greenhouse gases by trapping them in charcoal-laced soil.
“Charcoal fertilization can permanently increase soil organic matter content and improve soil quality, persisting in soil for hundreds to thousands of years,” Mingxin Guo and colleagues report. In what they describe as a “new and pioneering” ACS report — the first systematic investigation of soil improvement by charcoal fertilization — Guo found that soils receiving charcoal produced from organic wastes were much looser, absorbed significantly more water and nutrients and produced higher crop biomass. The authors say “the results demonstrate that charcoal amendment is a revolutionary approach for long-term soil quality improvement.” — AD
ARTICLE # 4 EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Thursday, April 10, 1:30 p.m., Central Standard Time
Mingxin Guo, Ph.D.
Delaware State University
Dover, Delaware 19901
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