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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: May 06, 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.

News Items in this Edition

Advance toward producing biofuels without stressing global food supply

Scientists in California are reporting use of a first-of-its-kind approach to craft genetically engineered microbes with the much-sought ability to transform switchgrass, corn cobs, and other organic materials into methyl halides — the raw material for making gasoline and a host of other commercially important products. The new bioprocess could help pave the way for producing biofuels from agricultural waste, easing concerns about stress on the global food supply from using corn and other food crops. Their study is scheduled for the May 20 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.

Christopher Voigt and colleagues note in the new study that using crop waste to produce methyl halides is one of the most attractive ways of transforming biomass into liquid fuels and chemical raw materials now derived from petroleum. Plants and microbes produce methyl halides naturally, but in amounts too small for commercial use.

Using a database of 89 genes from plants, fungi, and bacteria known to produce methyl halides, the researchers identified genes that were the most likely to produce the highest levels of these substances. The scientists then spliced these genes into Brewer’s yeast — used to make beer and wine — so that the yeast cells churned out methyl halides instead of alcohol. In laboratory studies, the two engineered microbes helped boost methyl halide production from switchgrass, corn cob husks, sugar cane waste, and poplar wood to levels with commercial potential. — MTS

Working on the railroad? Using concrete could help environment

Wood or concrete? Railroads around the world face that decision as they replace millions of deteriorating cross ties, also known as railway sleepers, those rectangular objects used as a base for railroad tracks. A new report concludes that emissions of carbon dioxide — one of the main greenhouse gases contributing to global warming — from production of concrete sleepers are up to six times less than emissions associated with timber sleepers. The study is scheduled for the June 1 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

In the study, Robert Crawford points out that there have been long-standing concerns about environmental consequences of manufacturing railway sleepers because it involves harvesting large amounts of timber. Reinforced concrete sleepers are an alternative that offer greater strength, durability and long-term cost savings, he said. Critics of using concrete sleepers have charged that their manufacture increases greenhouse gas emissions as it involves higher consumption of fuel when compared to production of wood sleepers.

Crawford studied the greenhouse gas emissions of wooden and reinforced concrete sleepers based on one kilometer (0.62 miles) length of track over a 100-year life cycle. He found that emissions from reinforced concrete sleepers can be from two to six times lower than those from timber. “The results suggest strongly that reinforced concrete sleepers result in lower life cycle greenhouse emissions than timber sleepers,” the report states. — JS

Sweet deception: New test distinguishes impure honey from the real thing

Here's some sweet news for honey lovers: Researchers in France are reporting development of a simple test for distinguishing 100 percent natural honeys from adulterated or impure versions that they say are increasingly being foisted off on consumers. Their study appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

Bernard Herbreteau and colleagues point out that the high price of honey and its limited supply has led some beekeepers and food processors to fraudulently make and sell impure honey doped with inexpensive sweeteners, such as corn syrup. These knock-offs are almost physically and chemically indistinguishable from the real thing. Scientists need a better way to identify adulterated honey, the researchers say.

Herbreteau and colleagues describe a new, highly sensitive test that uses a special type of chromatography to separate and identify complex sugars (polysaccharides) on their characteristic chemical fingerprints. To test their method, the scientists obtained three different varieties of pure honey from a single beekeeper and then prepared adulterated samples of the honeys by adding 1 percent corn syrup. They showed that the new technique accurately distinguished the impure honeys from the pure versions based on differences in their sugar content. — MTS

New ”smart” polymer reduces radioactive waste at nuclear power plants

Scientists in Germany and India are reporting development of a new polymer that reduces the amount of radioactive waste produced during routine operation of nuclear reactors. Their study, which details a first-of-its-kind discovery, has been published in the ACS’ Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, a bi-weekly journal.

Börje Sellergren and colleagues note that structural materials such as carbon steel in power plants' water cooling systems form deposits of metal oxides when they interact with coolants. In nuclear power plants, these oxides trap radioactive ions, leading to buildups of radioactivity that require costly cleanups of reactor surfaces. Cobalt, present in some alloys used in the reactors' water systems, is a major contributor toward this problem because of its long half-life.

In the study, the researchers created an adsorbent material that — unlike conventional ion-exchange resins that are frequently used in reactors — is selective for cobalt but has the unique ability of disregarding iron-based ions. The polymer's high selectivity increases its appeal, the researchers add, for use in decontamination processes in reactors that utilize a variety of structural materials.— JS

New EU regulations force cosmetics firms to abandon safety tests in animals

New European Union (EU) regulations restricting use of animals to test the safety of shampoo, nail polish, and other personal care products are forcing cosmetic makers to seek alternative ways to test these products, according to an article scheduled for the May 11 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN senior correspondent Marc Reisch explains in the cover story that an EU regulation now restricts use of animal testing, and will totally ban it effective in 2013. “Its influence is far reaching because it will affect substances imported into the EU and because EU regulations are often adopted in other countries,” the article notes.

As a result, cosmetic makers are evaluating safety with so-called in vitro or “test tube” testing, simulations of cosmetic effects with computers, and safety information in existing databases. Some manufacturers express concern because EU officials have not yet validated all of the new testing methods and worry that the regulations could stifle development of innovative cosmetic ingredients.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Press releases, briefings, and more from ACS’ 237th National Meeting
    http://www.eurekalert.org/acsmeet.php

    http://www.ustream.tv/channel/acslive
  • Must-reads from C&EN: A close look at real-life CSI
    With popular CSI forensics shows on all the major TV networks, the ACS newsmagazine goes inside the FBI Investigation Laboratory in Quantico, Va. to report on this facility, which processes thousands of pieces of forensic evidence each year. The state-of-the-art instruments used by the FBI are what set the lab apart from other forensic facilities. To receive a free copy of this C&EN story about the FBI’s top line chemistry unit, send an e-mail to m_woods@acs.org.
  • ACS pressroom blog

The American Chemical Society’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) has created a new pressroom blog to highlight prominent research from ACS’ 34 journals. The blog includes daily commentary on the latest news from the weekly PressPac, including video and audio segments from researchers on topics covering chemistry and related sciences, including nanotechnology, food science, materials science and the environment. The pressroom blog will also cover updates on ACS’ awards, the national meetings and other general news from the world’s largest scientific society.

  • Bytesize Science blog
    Educators and kids, put on your thinking caps: The American Chemical Society has a new blog for Bytesize Science, a science podcast for kids of all ages. The Bytesize blog contains entertaining video podcasts and audio episodes of the latest and greatest news from the frontiers of chemistry, including a video detailing a discovery about the bug-eating pitcher plant and an audio episode on a new use for magnolia tree bark.
  • ACS satellite pressroom: Daily news blasts 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.
  • 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.
  • Save the Date: Green Chemistry conference on sustainability begins June 23
    Jean-Michel Cousteau, noted explorer, film-producer and environmentalist, and Len Sauers, Ph.D., Vice President of Global Sustainability for The Procter & Gamble Company, are the featured keynote speakers at the upcoming 13th annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in June in College Park, Md. The focus of this year’s conference, June 23-25 at the Marriott Inn and Conference Center, is on progress made toward research objectives identified in the National Academy of Sciences’ 2006 report, “Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs.” Sauers will address the convention on June 24, Cousteau on June 25. For more information on the conference, please visit www.gcande.org.

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. Launched in 2008, this award-winning series continues in 2009 with updates and fresh content. 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
    Bytesize Science is a science podcast for kids of all ages that aims to entertain as much as it educates. Subscribe to Bytesize Science in iTunes. No iTunes? No problem. Listen to latest episodes of Bytesize Science in your web browser.
  • Science Elements: An ACS Science News Podcast
    The ACS Office of Public Affairs is podcasting PressPac contents in order to make cutting-edge scientific discoveries from ACS journals available to a broad public audience at no charge. Subscribe to Science Elements using iTunes. Listen to the latest episodes of Science Elements in your web browser.

More ACS News


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

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.