ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Jun 18 16:42:03 EDT 2008

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News Items in this Edition

Prions are not degraded by conventional sewage treatment processes

Scientists in Wisconsin are reporting in a paper scheduled for the July 1 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology that typical wastewater treatment processes do not degrade prions. Prions, rogue proteins that cause incurable brain infections such as Mad Cow disease and its human equivalent, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, are difficult to inactivate, resisting extreme heat, chemical disinfectants, and irradiation. Until now, scientists did not know whether prions entering sewers and septic tanks from slaughterhouses, meatpacking facilities, or private game dressing, could survive and pass through conventional sewage treatment plants.

Joel Pedersen and colleagues used laboratory experiments with simulated wastewater treatment to show that prions can be recovered from wastewater sludge after 20 days, remaining in the “biosolids,” a byproduct of sewage treatment sometimes used to fertilize farm fields.

Although emphasizing that prions have never been reported in wastewater treatment plant water or biosolids, the researchers note that existing tests are not sufficiently sensitive to detect the extremely low levels of prions possible in those materials. — AD

New test for more reliable product expiration labels

Journal Information

Journal: Environmental Science & Technology

Journal Article: “Persistence of Pathogenic Prion Protein during Simulated Wastewater Treatment Processes”

Beer gets a “skunky” taste. Wine develops an unpleasant flavor termed “light-struck.” And exposure to light causes off flavors, colors, and aromas in hundreds of other foods and beverages and decreases shelf life. Now, researchers in Italy report development of a more reliable method for predicting shelf-life that accounts for light sensitivity for the first time and may help consumers choose fresher, tastier food products. Their study is scheduled for the June 25 issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

In the new study, Lara Manzocco and colleagues note that the bright, intense light of retail displays is widely known to cause the formation of off-flavors, loss of nutrients, and color fading in food and beverages. But conventional methods to test the shelf-life of these products focus on the effect of heat and ignore the effect of light, leading to underestimations in shelf-life shown on product expiration labels. A more reliable test is needed, the researchers say.

The scientists exposed a soft drink containing saffron, which contains light-sensitive substances, to different levels of light at increasing temperatures. They found that the beverage grew lighter in color as light intensity increased, confirming that light can cause a dramatic decrease in beverage quality. Based on these observations, the scientists developed a new mathematical model that measures light-sensitivity as well as temperature to provide a more reliable method for predicting shelf-life. — MTS

New research reports that 12 million molecules share 143 basic shapes

Journal Information

Journal: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

Journal Article: “Shelf Life Modeling of Photosensitive Food: The Case of Colored Beverages”

Chemists in Ohio have discovered that half of all of the known chemical compounds in the world have an amazing similarity in sharing only 143 basic molecular shapes. That sharply limits the number of molecular building blocks that chemists often deploy in efforts to develop new drugs and other products, the researchers say in a study scheduled for the June 20 issue of the bi-weekly ACS’ Journal of Organic Chemistry.

Alan H. Lipkus and colleagues note that researchers have known for years that certain features of molecules, such as rings of atoms and the bonds than link them together, appear time after time in hundreds of life-saving medications, food additives, and other widely used products.

Scientists often tend to focus on these well-known types of molecular scaffolding in their quest to select the most promising rings, linkers, and other components for building new drugs while overlooking less familiar structures, the researchers say.

In the new study, they analyzed the chemical frameworks of more than 24 million organic substances found in the ACS’ Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Registry, the world’s most comprehensive database of disclosed molecules. They found that half of the substances could be described by only 143 basic framework shapes. By paying more attention to a multitude of other molecular shapes, chemists might discover an array of useful rings, linkers, and other building blocks for tomorrow's drugs and other medical, commercial, and industrial products, the study concluded. — MTS

Building giant ‘nanoassemblies’ that sense their environment

Journal Information

Journal: Journal of Organic Chemistry

Journal Article: “Structural Diversity of Organic Chemistry. A Scaffold Analysis of the CAS Registry”

Researchers in Texas are reporting the design, construction, and assembly of nano-size building blocks into the first giant structures that can sense and respond to changes in environmental conditions. The study, scheduled for the July 9 issue of ACS’s Nano Letters, a monthly journal, terms those structures “giant” because they are about the size of a grain of rice — millions of times larger than anything in the submicroscopic realm of the nanoworld.

In the new study, Pulickel M. Ajayan and colleagues point out that such structures are a step toward the development of futuristic nanomachines with practical applications in delivering medicines to patients, labs-on-a-chip, and other products. Until now, scientists have had difficulty in using nanomaterials to build more complex, multifunctional objects needed for those applications.

The researchers describe development of a hybrid nanowire consisting of segments with water-repelling carbon nanotubes on one end and water-attracting metal nanowires on the other end. In laboratory tests, they showed that the nanowires could assemble themselves into larger, more complex structures when placed in water. The structures also sensed and responded to their environment by making movements when exposed to chemicals, magnets, and light. The findings “could lead to the creation of smart materials that are a cornerstone for the development of nanotechnology-based applications,” the study notes.

Chemists develop healthier foods

Journal Information

Journal: Nano Letters

Journal Article: “Controlled Manipulation of Giant Hybrid Inorganic Nanowire Assemblies”

From carrots to grapefruits to tortillas, researchers worldwide are giving common foods a more nutritious makeover by removing unhealthy substances and adding or enhancing those that may help fight diseases such as cancer and heart disease, according to an article scheduled for the June 23 issue of Chemical & Engineering News. Some of these products could soon appear at a grocery store near you.

In the C&EN cover story, Associate Editor Rachel Petkewich points out that, amid growing consumer interest in leading a healthier lifestyle, scientists are identifying an increasing number of disease-fighting substances in foods and using them to enhance food crops. As evidence for this skyrocketing interest in healthier foods, the article notes that the number of published papers exploring the disease-fighting properties of food components has quintupled since 2003. Scientists have already developed carrots with super-high antioxidant levels. Other foods designed to target cancer, high cholesterol, and other health conditions may soon be on the way.

But creating healthier foods that are still appealing to consumer taste can be tricky, as changing certain food components makes flavor and texture unappetizing. Scientists are now working on creating substances that can boost nutrition without loosing the qualities consumers find appealing.

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:

  • Pfizer’s work on penicillin becomes National Historic Chemical Landmark

Pfizer’s deep-tank fermentation — a revolutionary process that enabled mass production of penicillin for use in World War II — was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society (ACS) in a special ceremony in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 12. The process ushered in the era of antibiotics and represented a turning point in modern medicine. After World War II, Pfizer applied its deep-tank fermentation to manufacture the antibiotics streptomycin and Terramycin,® which proved effective against a wide range of deadly bacteria. Read the press release for more information.

  • 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 You can also receive the most recent issues by contacting the editor, Pat Pages, at: 202-872-6164 or

  • ACS Press Releases

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

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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.

Journal Information

Journal: Chemical & Engineering News

Journal Article: “Devising Healthier Foods”