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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: June 11, 2008

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News Items in this Edition

Coffee’s aroma kick-starts genes in the brain

Drink coffee to send a wake-up call to the brain? Or just smell its rich, warm aroma? An international group of scientists is reporting some of the first evidence that simply inhaling coffee aroma alters the activity of genes in the brain. In experiments with laboratory rats, they found that coffee aroma orchestrates the expression of more than a dozen genes and some changes in protein expressions, in ways that help reduce the stress of sleep deprivation. Their study is scheduled for the June 25 issue of ACS’ bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Han-Seok Seo and colleagues point out that hundreds of studies have been done on the ingredients in coffee, including substances linked to beneficial health effects. “There are few studies that deal with the beneficial effects of coffee aroma,” they note. “This study is the first effort to elucidate the effects of coffee bean aroma on the sleep deprivation-induced stress in the rat brain.”

In an effort to begin filling that gap, they allowed lab rats to inhale coffee aroma, including some rats stressed by sleep deprivation. The study then compared gene and protein expressions in the rats’ brains. Rats that sniffed coffee showed different levels of activity in 17 genes. Thirteen of the genes showed differential mRNA expression between the stress group and the stress with coffee group, including proteins with healthful antioxidant activity known to protect nerve cells from stress-related damage.

Lake sediments help scientists trace 7,000 years of mining, metal use in China

A new geochemical study illuminates 7,000 years of mining and metal use in central China and links these trends to fluctuations in airborne pollution during the Bronze Age and other military and industrial periods in Chinese history. The study, which could help scientists better assess the accumulative environmental effects of human activity in the region since prehistory times, is scheduled for the July 1 issue of the ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

Using carbon-dated core sediments taken from Liangzhi Lake in Hubei province, Xiang-Dong Li and colleagues were able to track metal deposit trends at the lake dating back to 5,000 B. C. Liangzhi Lake, located in an important region in the development of Chinese civilization, is relatively undistributed by local wastewater discharges and is therefore an ideal site to study ecological changes and the effects of past human activity, the scientists say.

Beginning in about 3,000 B.C. concentrations of copper, nickel, lead and zinc in the sediments began to rise, indicating the onset of Bronze Age in ancient China, the researchers found. In the late Bronze Age (475 B.C. to 220 A.D.), an era corresponding with numerous wars, sediment concentrations of copper increased 36 percent and lead by 82 percent. Copper and lead were used extensively to make bronze tools and weapons. The sediments suggest mining and metal usage in the region continued to wax and wane into the modern era, reflecting the environmental changes influenced by past human activity.

Natural plant materials to regulate starch digestion

Researchers in Switzerland are reporting discovery of natural plant materials that may regulate starch digestion — slowing down the body’s conversion of potatoes, rice, and other carbohydrate-rich foods into sugar. The findings could lead to new functional foods that fight diabetes, they say in a report scheduled for the June 26 issue of the ACS’ bi-weekly Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

In the new study, Elena Lo Piparo and colleagues explain that a key digestive protein called alpha-amylase rapidly converts certain high-carb foods into glucose or blood sugar. That fast conversion results in sudden spikes in blood sugar in patients with diabetes. A common clinical strategy to manage sharp rises in blood glucose after eating is the use of pharmaceutical agents that inhibit specific starch-splitting enzymes. Although researchers have known for years that some natural foods appear to contain chemicals capable of blocking alpha-amylase, the exact structure and mechanism of action of these substances remained unknown.

The researchers at NestlÉ Research Center were interested in finding natural food-based compounds that can modulate this process, and to further understand the molecular mechanisms through which this interaction occurs. Using molecular modeling techniques they selected 19 plant components, called flavonoids, to be tested for their ability to block alpha-amylase activity. They identified 7 flavonoids with significant inhibition of alpha-amylase, the strongest of which inhibited activity by 99 percent. Knowledge gained from this study will lead to a better understanding about food-based compounds and their natural properties, to help the research and development of products with a positive impact on health and wellness.

Coats of cellulose from bacteria yield greener, stronger natural composites

Researchers in the United Kingdom report the first use of bacteria to deposit sticky coatings of cellulose on the surfaces of plant fibers, a process that may expand the use of natural fibers in renewable plastic composites used as strong, lightweight materials for cars, airplanes, and other products. The coated fibers provide strength and will make composites more durable without affecting their biodegradability. They are more suitable for recycling (or compositing) than commonly used petroleum-based composites, the researchers say. Their study is scheduled for the June issue of ACS’ Biomacromolecules, a monthly journal.

In the new study, Alexander Bismarck and colleagues point out that synthetic composite materials now in use are made from nonrenewable, petroleum sources which are becoming more expensive. These materials not only are difficult to break down, they also create environmental hazards when disposed. Existing composites made from natural fibers show poor adhesion qualities and must be strengthened by using other synthetic coupling agents, some of which are toxic, the researchers note.

The researchers coated hemp and sisal fibers with nano-sized particles of bacterial cellulose through a special fermentation process. The coated sisal fibers showed much better adhesion properties than the original fibers without losing their mechanical properties, ideal properties for their use in composites, the researchers say. The modified hemp fibers also had improved adhesion properties but showed a loss of strength, they note.

Increasingly potent drug ingredients offer growing market as manufacturers address worker safety

To develop improved drugs for fighting cancer and other diseases, pharmaceutical researchers are finding increasingly potent drug ingredients that will allow smaller doses while causing fewer side effects, according to an article scheduled for the June 16 issue of Chemical & Engineering News. This development has also spawned efforts by pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturers to increase production, while assuring the safety of workers in their plants who might be exposed to these powerful new chemicals.

In the C&EN cover story, Senior Correspondent Ann Thayer points out that these powerful agents are part of the rapidly expanding anticancer drug market, which racks up $48 billion in sales each year and is growing at twice the rate of the overall pharmaceutical market. These substances include targeted drugs, which zero in on disease tissues and cells rather than exposing the entire body to any harmful effects.

The growth in demand for these potent drug ingredients is contributing to an increase in the number of manufacturers that specialize in making them. As a result, pharmaceutical manufacturers are building new facilities that can operate at higher and safer levels of containment and are adding specialized equipment to protect workers from exposure to these potent materials, the article notes.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Save the Date: ACS’s 236th National Meeting, August 17-21, Philadelphia

One of 2008’s largest and most important scientific conferences — the 236th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society will be held Aug. 17-21, 2008, in Philadelphia, Pa. At least 12,000 scientists and others are expected for the event, which will include more than 8,000 reports on new discoveries in chemistry. The multi-disciplinary theme is Chemistry for Health: Catalyzing Transitional Research. Stay tuned for information on registration, housing, press releases, and onsite press briefings that will be available via the Internet.ress releases, chat room sessions, and more from ACS’ 235th National Meeting.

  • New ACS Annual Report

The 2007 ACS annual report, Our Science, Our Lives, Our Stories, 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 ACS members describing in their own words why they became chemists, what they find rewarding about their work and how the transforming power of chemistry helps address mounting global problems and improves people’s lives. Some are humorous, some are poignant. All of them are compelling. The newly published report is at: http://www.acsannualreport.org/acsannualreport/2007.

  • 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

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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.
  • ACS News



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