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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: January 14, 2009

Note to Journalists and Other Viewers

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

This information is intended for your personal use in news gathering and reporting and should not be distributed to others. Anyone using advance ACS Office of Public Affairs Weekly PressPac information for stocks or securities dealing may be guilty of insider trading under the federal Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

Please cite the individual journal, or the American Chemical Society, as the source of this information.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The PressPac will take a holiday next week for the Presidential Inauguration and will resume on January 28.

News Items in this Edition

Medieval walls in Spain contain bits of bone

In a macabre discovery fit for Indiana Jones, archaeologists in Spain unearthed a 14th century brick oven with a unique role — to bake bones. Scientists report that the animal bones were burnt in the oven and mixed with other materials to produce a protective coating to strengthen the grand medieval walls of what is today Granada, Spain. In a study scheduled to appear in the Jan. 15 issue of ACS’ semi-monthly journal Analytical Chemistry, scientists describe how they found these materials thanks to a powerful new testing method.

Carolina Cardell and colleagues point out that ancient decorative and protective layers, or patinas, covering the outside of very old buildings have been subject of many analyses in archaeology, conservation and chemistry. Patinas have been a popular finishing for building exteriors and walls for aesthetic and protective reasons since ancient times. “However, the results of this work are significant for archaeologists since this is the first report of burnt bones in a patina on a Muslim monument, as well as the archaeological artifacts — the oven and raw materials — used to produce them,” says Cardell.

Using a novel new method to identify the components of historical artifacts, the team found hydroxyapatite, the main component in bone pigments and animal bones, in the patina of Granada’s medieval walls. Their new test is inexpensive, identifies chemicals more accurately and — most importantly — does not harm the historical artifacts. — AD

Advance toward first saliva test for Type 2 diabetes

Scientists in Oregon and India are reporting an advance toward developing the first saliva test to diagnose and monitor effectiveness of treatment for Type 2 diabetes. Their report was published in the Jan. 2 issue of ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research. The number of cases of that disease (18 million in the United States alone) has doubled during the last 30 years in parallel with the epidemic of obesity. Researchers say their work represents the first comprehensive description of the proteins in the saliva of patients with Type 2 diabetes, also called non-insulin dependent diabetes.

In the study, Paturi V. Rao and colleagues note that early diagnosis and effective treatment is critical for preventing the disease’s complications, including loss of vision, nerve damage, and kidney damage. One important barrier is the need for sometimes-painful needle sticks to draw blood for tests. The discomfort can discourage patients from properly monitoring their blood sugar levels, the scientists say.

The researchers analyzed saliva samples from individuals with and without Type 2 diabetes for protein biomarkers of diabetes. They identified 65 proteins that appeared twice as often in the diabetic samples than the non-diabetic samples. These newly identified proteins could lead to new, noninvasive tests for diabetes screening, detection, and monitoring, the researchers say. — MTS

Microscopic “hands” for building tomorrow’s machines

In a finding straight out of science fiction, chemical and biomolecular engineers in Maryland are describing development of microscopic, chemically triggered robotic “hands” that can pick up and move small objects. They could be used in laboratory-on-a-chip applications, reconfigurable microfluidic systems, and micromanufacturing, the researchers say. A report on their so-called “microgrippers” is in the December 3, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.

In the new study, David Gracias and colleagues note that researchers have long sought to develop chemically triggered microscopic devices that can manipulate small objects with precision. Chemical actuation occurs in biological machinery and enables autonomous function in nature with high specificity and selectivity. Although other scientists have made experimental “grippers” in the lab, these devices generally require the use of batteries and wiring, making them hard to miniaturize and maneuver in small spaces and convoluted conduits.

The researchers describe development of tiny metallic microgrippers shaped like a hand that work without electricity. The grippers are about 0.03 inches wide when open — smaller than the diameter of a grain of sand and made from a gold-coated nickel “palm” joined by six pointy metallic “fingers.” The addition of certain chemicals triggers the hands to open or close. In laboratory studies, the scientists demonstrated that the grippers could grasp and release tiny pipes and glass beads and transport these objects to distant locations with the aid of a magnet, showcasing their potential for pick-and-place operations that are ubiquitous in manufacturing, they say.

They also say that this demonstration is also a step toward the development of Micro Chemo Mechanical Systems (MCMS) in contrast to the already well established field of Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS); the main difference being that the tools are triggered by chemistry as opposed to electricity. — MTS

Early immune system exposures linked to chronic disease

Scientists and regulators have a golden opportunity to reduce the health toll from a range of diseases by focusing more attention on identification of environmental factors that can damage the prenatal immune system as well as that of infants and children, according to an article scheduled for the Jan. 19 issue of ACS' Chemical Research in Toxicology, a monthly journal.

In the study, Rodney R. Dietert points out that a scientific field known as developmental immunotoxicology (DIT) focuses on the effects of exposure to biological materials, drugs, medical devices, chemicals, and other environmental factors on the developing immune system in fetuses, infants and children. Research so far suggests links between those factors and an increased risk of asthma, autism, diabetes, leukemia, and other important diseases.

Dietert's perspective article examines diseases associated with DIT and calls for an increase in awareness of preadult immune dysfunction and its consequences on life-long chronic disease. A protected, well functioning immune system, the paper says, could not only extend quality of life during adulthood, it could also reduce future health care needs. Identifying hazards for developing immune systems and protection against dysfunction provide opportunities to reduce health risks for the most significant chronic diseases of children and adults, Dietert says. — JS

Surprising new health and environmental concerns about tungsten

Surprising new scientific research is raising concerns about the potential health and environmental hazards of tungsten — a metal used in products ranging from bullets to light bulbs to jewelry — that scientists once thought was environmentally-benign, according to an article scheduled for the Jan. 19 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN Associate Editor Rachel Petkewich notes that scientists have long held that tungsten is relatively insoluble in water and nontoxic. As a result, the U.S. military developed in the mid-1990s so-called “green bullets” that contain tungsten as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to lead-based ammunition. But studies now show that tungsten, which is also used in welding, metal cutting, and other applications, is not as chemically inert as previously thought. Some forms of tungsten can move readily though soil and groundwater under certain environmental conditions. Both the U.S. Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency now classify the element as an “emerging contaminant” of concern.

Although scientists think that tungsten seems much less toxic than lead or mercury, they do not know its exact health and environmental effects, the article notes. Scientists have shown that exposure to tungsten can stunt the growth of plants, cause reproductive problems in earthworms, and trigger premature death in certain aquatic animals. But whether or not tungsten can cause chronic health effects in humans, and its mechanism of action, awaits further study, the article suggests.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Join the ACS satellite pressroom for daily news blast on Twitter
    The American Chemical Society’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) new satellite press room has quickly become one of the most popular science news sites on Twitter with daily updates on the latest research from ACS’ 34 peer-reviewed journals and other news, including links to compelling podcast series, information on the upcoming 237th National Meeting, and the latest recipients of ACS’ national awards. To receive press room updates, create a free account at https://twitter.com/signup. Then visit http://twitter.com/ACSpressroom and click the ‘join’ button beneath the press room logo.
  • Save the Date: ACS 237th National Meeting in 2009
    ACS' 237th National Meeting in Salt Lake City, March 22-26, 2009. Expect more than 7,000 presentations on the broad spectrum of the sciences that involve chemistry — from astronomy to zoology. For advance complimentary news media registration: https://www.xpressreg.net/register/acsa039/media/start.asp
  • Press releases, briefings, 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: www.eurekalert.org/acsmeet.php.

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 http://www.ustream.tv/channel/acslive. To use this site, you must first register with Ustream.tv by going to http://ustream.tv/sign-up-step-1. 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 http://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer.

  • ACS Press Releases

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

  • From Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS)

CAS - Science Connections is a series of articles that showcases the value of CAS databases in light of important general-interest science and technology news. Ranging in topics from fruit flies to Nobel Prize winners, the CAS - Science Connections series points to the CAS databases for a more complete understanding of the latest news.

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.

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