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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: August 06, 2008

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News Items in this Edition

Scientists develop the world’s thinnest balloon

Researchers in New York are reporting development of the world’s thinnest balloon, made of a single layer of graphite just one atom thick. This so-called graphene sealed microchamber is impermeable to even the tiniest airborne molecules, including helium. It has a range of applications in sensors, filters, and imaging of materials at the atomic level, they say in a study scheduled for the August 13 issue of ACS’ Nano Letters, a monthly journal.

Paul L. McEuen and colleagues note that membranes are fundamental components of a wide variety of physical, chemical and biological systems, found in everything from cellular compartments to mechanical pressure sensing. Graphene, a single layer of graphite, is the upper limit: A chemically stable and electrically conducting membrane just one atom thick. The researchers wanted to answer whether such an atomic membrane would be impermeable to gas molecules and easily incorporated into other devices.

Their data showed that graphene membranes were impermeable to even the smallest gas molecules. These results show that single atomic sheets can be integrated with microfabricated structures to create a new class of atomic scale membrane-based devices. We envision many applications for these graphene sealed microchambers, says McEuen. These range from hyper-sensitive pressure, light and chemical sensors to filters able to produce ultrapure solutions. — AD

Test to protect food chain from human form of Mad Cow Disease

Scientists are reporting development of the first test for instantly detecting beef that has been contaminated with tissue from a cow's brain or spinal cord during slaughter — an advance in protecting against possible spread of the human form of Mad Cow Disease. The study is scheduled for the August 13 issue of ACS' bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

JÜrgen A. Richt and colleagues point out that removal of brain, spinal and other central nervous tissue after slaughter is “one of the highest priority tasks to avoid contamination of the human food chain with bovine spongiform encephalopathy,” better known as Mad Cow Disease. “No currently available method enables the real-time detection of possible central nervous system (CNS) tissue contamination on carcasses during slaughter,” the report states.

They describe a test based on detection of the fluorescent pigment lipofuscin, a substance that appears in high concentrations in the nervous tissue of cattle. The researchers found that it was a dependable indicator for the presence of brain and spinal tissue in bovine carcasses and meat cuts. “Small quantities of bovine spinal cord were reliably detected in the presence of raw bovine skeletal muscle, fat and vertebrae. The research lays the foundation for development of a prototype device allowing real-time monitoring of CNS tissue contamination on bovine carcasses and meat cuts,” the report says. It was done with colleagues from the National Animal Disease Center of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and Iowa State University. — AD

New evidence on benefits of breast feeding

Researchers in Switzerland and Australia are reporting identification of proteins in human breast-milk — not present in cow’s milk — that may fight disease by helping remove bacteria, viruses and other dangerous pathogen’s from an infant’s gastrointestinal tract. Their study is scheduled for the September 5 issue of ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research, a monthly publication.

Niclas Karlsson and colleagues point out that researchers have known for years that breast milk appears to provide a variety of health benefits, including lower rates of diarrhea, rashes, allergies, and other medical problems in comparison to babies fed with cow’s milk. However, the biological reasons behind this association remain unclear.

To find out, the scientists collected human and cow’s milk samples and analyzed their content of milk fat. They found that fat particles in human milk are coated with particular variants of two sugar-based proteins, called MUC-1 and MUC-4. Previous studies by others have shown that these proteins can block certain receptors in the GI tract that are the main attachment sites for E. coli, Helicobacter pylori and other disease-causing microbes, thereby preventing infection. By contrast, since cow’s milk lacks these protein variants, it may not offer the same disease protection, the researchers say. — MTS

A new look at the “biobed’s” role in pesticide spills

Scientists in Sweden are cautioning about the need for further research as more countries embrace a popular method for preventing pesticide spills. Their review of current scientific knowledge on the so-called “biobed” is scheduled for the August 13 issue of ACS’ bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

In the study, Maria Del Pilar Castillo and colleagues point out that pesticide spills are common when farmers transfer highly concentrated liquid preparations into spray tanks where the pesticide is diluted with water. Even if a small, few-inch wide puddle of this concentrate spilled under the tank, the nearby environment could be exposed to up to one hundred thousand times the normal pesticide dose. “The risk of contamination is obvious,” says Castillo.

To remedy the problem, Swedish scientists in 1993 developed the biobed. Built from layers of grass, clay and a biomixture of straw, peat and soil approximately two feet deep, the biobed functions as an absorbent sponge for leaking concentrate from parked spray tanks.

Castillo says the effectiveness and simplicity of biobed systems help them spread worldwide. But as biobeds are modified to suit local conditions and needs, she cautions that it is important to analyze their actual performance in each specific location and evaluate the effects of changes to the biobed’s composition and how local temperature and other conditions affect performance. — AD

Toward a drug-free Olympics: Analytical chemistry takes center stage

In the most comprehensive drug-testing effort in sports history, Olympic officials are taking unprecedented steps to make sure this year’s athletes compete without the use of performance enhancing drugs. But despite improvements in drug-testing techniques, catching athletes who cheat remains difficult, according to an article scheduled for the August 11 issue of Chemical & Engineering News.

In a feature article in the magazine, C&EN Senior Correspondent Marc S. Reisch points out that Olympic officials will spend about $10 million testing athletes for performance enhancing drugs, including round-the clock monitoring of urine and blood samples. Many of these tests will focus on identifying human growth hormone (hGH) and erythropoietin (EPO), two products of recombinant DNA technology that athletes have used to boost muscle mass and increase endurance.

Although analytical instruments have become more accurate, reliable, and capable over the years, catching cheaters remains a virtual cat and mouse game. One challenge is the use of custom-synthesized “designer” drugs, which are difficult to identify and test, according to the article. But with more money and effort going into testing, athletes are likely to think twice before using performance enhancing drugs, the article suggests.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Embargoed press releases/press briefings for ACS’s 236th National Meeting, Aug. 17-21, Philadelphia

Embargoed press releases, a press briefing schedule, non-technical summaries of hundreds of papers, and abstracts of 8,000 papers are now available from the ACS and Eurekalert's ACS National Meeting page. Full audio and video from press briefings will be available via the Internet, with news media from remote locations able to submit questions. ACS’ 236th national meeting is one of 2008’s largest and most important scientific conferences, with about 12,000 scientists and others expected to attend. The multi-disciplinary theme is Chemistry for Health: Catalyzing Transitional Research.

  • “Live from Philadelphia”: Press Briefing Schedule for ACS 236th national meeting for onsite coverage and remote access via the Internet

The American Chemical Society (ACS) Office of Public Affairs is offering the news media the opportunity to join press briefings whether covering the meeting onsite or from a remote location. This format during ACS’ 236th national meeting Aug. 17-21 in Philadelphia will provide access to the increasing number of journalists who cover scientific meetings from their home base. Borrowing the popular chat room concept from the Internet, we will provide news media with access to both real and virtual chat room sessions during the Philadelphia meeting. Reporters attending the meeting can gather with scientists in an informal setting in our Press Center Chat Room, Room 303 A-B, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Reporters attending remotely can check the briefing schedule for instructions on joining the sessions. View the national meeting Press Briefing Schedule.

  • ChemMatters Matters for Journalists

This quarterly ACS magazine for high school chemistry students, teachers, and others explains the chemistry that underpins everyday life in a lively, understandable fashion. ChemMatters is available at www.acs.org/chemmatters. You can also receive the most recent issues by contacting the editor, Pat Pages, at: 202-872-6164 or chemmatters@acs.org.

  • ACS Press Releases

General science press releases on a variety of chemistry-related topics.

For Wired Readers

  • Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Don’t miss this special series of ACS podcasts on some of the 21st Century’s most daunting challenges, and how cutting-edge research in chemistry matters in the quest for solutions. This sweeping panorama of challenges includes topics such as providing a hungry, thirsty world with ample supplies of safe food and clean water; developing alternatives to petroleum to fuel the global economy; preserving the environment and assuring a sustainable future for our children; and improving human health. An ongoing saga of chemistry for life — chemistry that truly matters — Global Challenges debuts June 25 with new episodes through December. Subscribe at iTunes or listen and access other resources at the ACS web site www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges.

  • Bytesize Science, a podcast for young listeners

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  • Science Elements: An ACS Science News 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.
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