ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Nov 19 15:42:03 EST 2008

Note to Journalists and Other Viewers

Here is the latest American Chemical Society (ACS) News Service Weekly PressPac with news from ACS’ 34 peer-reviewed journals and Chemical & Engineering News.

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News Items in this Edition

Microcapsules act as “roach motel” to kill harmful bacteria

Researchers in New Mexico and Florida are reporting development of microscopic particles that act as chemical booby traps for bacteria. The traps attract and kill up to 95 percent of nearby bacteria, including microbes responsible for worrisome hospital-based infections. The scientists describe their discovery as micro-sized “roach motels” for harmful bacteria. Their study is scheduled to go online November 24 in the premiere issue of ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, a new monthly journal. It is scheduled for the January 28 print edition.

In the report, David G. Whitten of the University of New Mexico and Kirk S. Schanze of the University of Florida, working together with a team of faculty and graduate student collaborators, point out that bacterial contamination of medical devices causes up to 1.4 million deaths per year.  In addition, bacteria are becoming more resistant to standard disinfection methods. Scientists also are increasingly concerned about the possibility of intentional release of harmful bacteria by terrorists. As a result, researchers are attempting to develop new and improved methods of disinfection.

The New Mexico and Florida groups describe an advance toward this goal.  It involves the development of light-activated, hollow microcapsules composed of an organic conducting polymer.  The antibacterial microcapsules can attract, capture, and kill bacteria. In controlled laboratory tests, the researchers exposed the capsules to either Pseudomonas aeruginosa, one of the deadliest and most common hospital-based pathogens, or Cobetia marina, a type of bacterium that fouls the hulls of ships and other marine equipment. After one hour of light exposure, the light-activated capsules killed more than 95 percent of the exposed bacteria, the researchers say. The microcapsules can be applied to a variety of surfaces, including medical equipment, they add.  — MTS

Key advance toward treatment for most common adult form of muscular dystrophy

Journal Information

Journal: ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces

Journal Article: “Conjugated Polyelectrolyte Capsules: Light-Activated Anti-microbial Micro “Roach Motels”

  • For full text article please contact Michael Bernstein.

Scientists in New York are reporting a critical first step toward development of a long-sought drug to treat myotonic muscular dystrophy (MMD), the most common form of muscular dystrophy in adults. MMD affects about 1 in 8,000 people. Their findings appeared in the November 8 issue of ACS’ weekly Journal of the American Chemical Society.

In the study, Benjamin Miller and colleagues point out that MMD differs from typical hereditary diseases. They result from mutated DNA in genes that encodes an erroneous message that RNA picks up and passes along.  As a result, cells produce faulty proteins. Those proteins disrupt cells’ activity and cause symptoms of the disease. Rather, MMD is caused by wayward or “toxic” strands of RNA.

The researchers describe discovery of a family of drug-like molecules that target the errant strands of RNA, preventing production of the defective protein. The discovery, they said, provides scientists for the first time with substances that target the root cause of MMD and represent molecules that could be developed into drugs. They note that drugs more commonly target DNA or proteins, with the RNA approach offering a different and potentially valuable route to developing new medications for certain diseases. — JS

“Toward healthier bread and other whole grain foods

Journal Information

Journal of the American Chemical Society

Journal Article: “Dynamic Combinatorial Selection of Molecules Capable of Inhibiting the (CUG) Repeat RNA-MBNL1 Interaction In Vitro: Discovery of Lead Compounds Targeting Myotonic Dystrophy (DM1)”

Bread, pasta, and other foods made from whole grains — known to help protect against heart disease, cancer and diabetes — may get even healthier in the future. Scientists in Europe collaborating in the European Union HEALTHGRAIN project are reporting the largest study to date comparing nutrient levels in the world’s different grain varieties, which could lead to the development of healthier varieties of grain and grain-based foods, they say.  Their findings will be described in a group of papers scheduled for the November 26 issue of the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.
In the new study, Peter R. Shewry and colleagues point out that whole grain foods, including wheat, rye and oats, have been widely touted in recent years for having greater health benefits than refined grains. Health-promoting ingredients in whole grains include fiber, antioxidants, folate, and other plant chemicals. As nutrient levels can vary from grain to grain, however, it is unclear which grain varieties pack the most nutritional punch, the researchers  note. 
To find out, the scientists grew 150 wheat varieties used for bread-making and 50 other small-grain varieties (including oats, rye, and barley) on a single farm in Hungary over a one year period. The grains, grown from  lines originating worldwide, were then harvested, milled, and analyzed for a range of plant chemicals and fiber components considered to have health benefits. The researchers identified grain varieties with high levels of healthy components that could be used to breed new, nutrient-rich varieties of grain for healthier whole grain foods. — MTS.

Gene “silencing” may improve success of islet cell transplants for diabetes

Journal Information

Journal: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

Journal Article: “The HEALTHGRAIN Cereal Diversity Screen: Concept, Results, and Prospects”

Scientists in Tennessee are reporting that a gene therapy technique called “gene silencing” shows promise for improving the effectiveness and expanded use of transplants of insulin-producing cells to treat insulin-dependent, or type 1, diabetes. The study is scheduled for the December 1 issue of ACS’ Molecular Pharmaceutics, a bi-monthly journal.

In the new study, Ram Mahato, Guofeng Cheng, and Lin Zhu point out that transplantation of the pancreas’s insulin producing cells, called islet cells, has great potential for treating patients with insulin-dependent diabetes. However, the procedure currently is ineffective for most people due to a tendency of the body’s immune system to reject transplanted cells. Studies by others indicate that a specific enzyme, caspase-3, plays a key role in carrying-out this destructive process.

To address this problem, the scientists genetically modified islet cells in the laboratory to turn off, or “silence” the gene responsible for producing caspase-3. When the modified cells were transplanted into the kidneys of mice with insulin-dependent diabetes, the blood glucose levels of the mice became normal for up to 32 days, the scientists say. When the cells were removed, the blood glucose levels of the mice returned to high levels similar to pre-transplantation levels, confirming that the transplanted cells were functional and effective, the researchers say.  — MTS

Concerns on mercury emissions foster new $500 million per year industry

Journal Information

Journal: Molecular Pharmaceutics

Journal Article: Caspase-3 Gene Silencing for Inhibiting Apoptosis in Insulinoma Cells and Human Islets”

Proposed government regulations limiting emissions of mercury from electricity-generating stations may foster development of a new half-billion-dollar per year industry offering technology for removing mercury from power plant smokestacks, according to an article scheduled for the November 24 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN Senior Correspondent Marc Reisch points out that mercury is a toxic metal that can cause nerve damage and birth defects in humans. The nation’s 1,100 coal-burning power plants spew 48 tons of mercury into the air each year, posing an invisible but serious public health hazard, the article notes.

To reduce that threat, federal regulators have proposed new restrictions on mercury emissions from electric power plants. When they do go into effect, suppliers of environmental technologies designed to reduce mercury emissions expect a future market of $500 million a year or more. One of the most promising mercury removal technologies is activated carbon, which can reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent or more, according to the article. But new and improved technologies for mercury removal are under development, including catalysts made of gold, platinum, or titanium dioxide. The payoff could mean a sizable new source of sales and income for some suppliers, the article notes.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Press releases, chat room sessions, and more from ACS' 236th National Meeting

It's never too late to explore a treasure trove of news sources, background material and story ideas available from the ACS' latest National Meeting, which was held in Philadelphia from August 17-21, 2008. Reporters can view press releases, search an archive with abstracts of more than 9,000 scientific presentations and hundreds of non-technical summaries of those presentations, and access other resources at:

The ACS Office of Public Affairs also offers recorded video versions of its national meeting "chat room" briefings and accompanying chat transcripts by going to To use this site, you must first register with by going to It's free and only takes a minute or two to sign up. To view the archived chat room sessions, proceed by clicking the "Login" button at the top right of the Ustream window and then selecting "Past Clips." Please note that Ustream requires the latest version of Adobe Flash, which can be downloaded without charge at

  • ACS Press Releases

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

For Wired Readers

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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

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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: “Getting Rid of Mercury”