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Chemistry News Archive February 2011

Chemistry News February 2011

News of the year 2011 in the fields of chemistry and chemistry-related topics like biochemistry, nantechnology, medicinal chemistry etc.

Main focus: press releases, scientific research results and summaries of chemistry articles, that are published in chemistry journals.

Please send us a eMail to publish your press release here!




(-)-Lomaiviticin Aglycon

Lomaiviticin Aglycon

Scientists synthesize long-sought-after anticancer agent.

Image: The authors report an 11-step, enantioselective synthetic route to lomaiviticin aglycon.

High-quality liquid fuels synthesis

Diesel from Plant Waste

Simple, energy-efficient process for producing high-quality fuels from biomass.

High-quality liquid fuels are obtained from non-edible carbohydrates by energy-efficient processes. 2-Methylfuran, produced by hydrogenation of furfural, is converted into 6-alkyl undecanes in a catalytic solvent-free process (see scheme with 6-butylundecane). A diesel fuel is produced with an excellent motor cetane number (71) and pour point (-90 °C) and with global process conversions and selectivities close to 90 % [Credit: Angewandte Chemie].

Synthesis of graphene nanoribbons

Synthesis of Perfect Graphene Ribbons

Long and narrow, free of defects, and soluble: graphene nanoribbons by bottom-up synthesis.

Image: A method for the bottom-up organic synthesis of defect-free graphene nanoribbons in solution has been developed [Credit: Angewandte Chemie].

Triple Junction

A Paperweight for Platinum

Bracing catalyst in material makes fuel cell component work better and last longer.

Image: A nanoparticle of indium tin oxide (green and red) braces platinum nanoparticles (blue) on the surface of graphene (black honeycomb) to make a hardier, more chemically active fuel cell material [Credit: Mike Perkins/PNNL].

Nanonets Coated with Iron Oxide Show Promise for Water Splitting

Nanonets for Efficient Solar Water Splitting

Nanonets give rust a boost as agent in water splitting's hydrogen harvest. Nano-scale lattice developed at Boston College a promising platform for clean energy applications.

Image: Boston College researchers have tested their Nanonet design as a platform for clean energy applications [Credit: Journal of the American Chemical Society].

Manganese superhalogens

Manganese-Based Superhalogens

Researchers discover a new class of magic atomic clusters called superhalogens.

Image: Magnetic superoxidizers [Credit: Angewandte Chemie International Edition].

Nobel metal in action

Noble Metal in Action

Jacobs Scientists Create Palladium-Oxide with Extra High Catalytic Potential.

Image: Nobel metal in action: the Polyoxometalate Cu2Pd22P12 [Credit: Angewandte Chemie].

Organic phosphors

Organic Phosphorescent Crystals

Jewel-toned organic phosphorescent crystals: A new class of light-emitting material.

Image: Organic phosphors developed at the University of Michigan could one day lead to cheaper organic light-emitting diodes. Here, they glow in blue and orange when triggered by ultraviolet light [Credit: Marcin Szczepanski, U-M College of Engineering].

Pigments Turning Brown

Degradation of Van Gogh Paintings Examined

X-rays show why van Gogh paintings lose their shine.

Image: This illustration shows how X-Rays were used to study why van Gogh paintings lose their shine [Credit: ESRF/Antwerp University/Van Gogh Museum].

SWCNTs in solution

Metallic Molecules to Nanotubes: Spread Out!

Rice University lab uses ruthenium complexes to dissolve nanotubes, add functionality.

Image: The dispersion of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) in the presence of water soluble polypyridyl complexes of the general formula [Rux(bpy)yL]2+ (L = dppz, dppn, tpphz) is reported. These ligands have extended planar p systems, which aid in the solubilization of SWCNTs via pi-pi interactions [Credit: ChemComm, RSC, DOI 10.1039/C0CC05295G].




Transparent Metals

Photon–plasmon coupling: Squeezed Through too Small a Hole - Dye guides light through perforated metal foil.

Supernova Remnant Crab Nebula

Existence of a Spherical Magnesium-32 Nucleus Confirmed

Exploring an 'island of inversion,' physicists find new clues to element synthesis in supernovae.

A new discovery, and the questions it raises, could help explain in greater detail how elements are synthesized in stellar explosions - such as the supernova that left behind the Crab Nebula [Credit: VLT/ESO].

Example Image from Project to Develop a Periodic Table of Shapes

Periodic Table of Shapes

... to give a new dimension to math: Mathematicians are creating their own version of the periodic table that will provide a vast directory of all the possible shapes in the universe across three, four and five dimensions, linking shapes together in the same way as the periodic table links groups of chemical elements.

Image: A slice through one such shape - a cubic threefold [Credit: Imperial College London].

Controlling single-molecule conductance

Controlling Single-molecule Conductance

Manipulating molecules for a new breed of electronics.

Image: When electrical devices are shrunk to a molecular scale, both electrical and mechanical properties of a given molecule become critical [Credit: The Biodesign Institute].

3-D nanoparticle in atomic resolution

3D Nanoparticle in Atomic Resolution

For the first time, scientists from Empa and ETH Zurich have, in collaboration with a Dutch team, managed to measure the atomic structure of individual nanoparticles. The technique, recently published in 'Nature', could help better understand the properties of nanoparticles in future.

Image: For the first time scientists succeeded in determining the exact spatial arrangement of each single atom in a nanoparticle. The yellow spheres are the graphically depicted atoms that form the silver nanoparticle, which is about two nanometres in diameter [Credit: EMPA].




Address Label for Proteins

Proteins find their way with address label and guide.

Image: Structure of SRP without its address label, that is, the signal sequence, (above) and with the signal sequence (right). The signal sequence is marked with a red arrow [Credit: Swedish Research Council].


Chemistry and Nanotechnology:


Nanotoxicology: An Interdisciplinary Challenge

Researchers seek to cast light on the phenomena that may occur as nanoobjects interact with cells, tissues, and organisms.


Chemistry and Environment:

Chemistry and Environment

Polar bears

Arctic Mercury Mystery

More mercury is deposited in the Arctic than anywhere else on the planet. Researchers think that one explanation for this may lie in the meteorological conditions in the Arctic spring and summer.

Image: Polar bears and humans that eat marine mammals are particularly at risk from the bioaccumulation of mercury in the Arctic [Photo credit: Jenny Bytingsvik, NTNU].

The Shape of Sulfur

Sulfur Dioxide Emissions

Worldwide sulfur emissions rose between 2000-2005, after decade of decline. Shipping, China top emissions growth in new analysis of 150 years of emissions.

Image: Manmade sulfur dioxide emissions by country show a decline by the historically large emitters - Europe and the US - but increases in growing economies up to 2005 [Credit: Smith et al., Atmos Chem Phys 2011].


More News (open access):

New high-performance lithium-ion battery 'top candidate' for electric cars

Scientists are reporting development of an advanced lithium-ion battery that is ideal for powering the electric vehicles now making their way into dealer showrooms. The new battery can store large amounts of energy in a small space and has a high rate capacity, meaning it can provide current even in extreme temperatures. A report on this innovation appears in ACS' Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Bruno Scrosati, Yang-Kook Sun, and colleagues point out that consumers have a great desire for electric vehicles, given the shortage and expense of petroleum. But a typical hybrid car can only go short distances on electricity alone, and they hold less charge in very hot or very cold temperatures. With the government push to have one million electric cars on U.S. roads by 2015, the pressure to solve these problems is high. To make electric vehicles a more realistic alternative to gas-powered automobiles, the researchers realized that an improved battery was needed.

The scientists developed a high-capacity, nanostructured, tin-carbon anode, or positive electrode, and a high-voltage, lithium-ion cathode, the negative electrode. When the two parts are put together, the result is a high-performance battery with a high energy density and rate capacity. "On the basis of the performance demonstrated here, this battery is a top candidate for powering sustainable vehicles," the researchers say.

The authors acknowledge funding from WCU (World Class University) program through the Korea Science and Engineering Foundation.

Journal of the American Chemical Society: "An Advanced Lithium Ion Battery Based on High Performance Electrode Materials" [J. Am. Chem. Soc., Article ASAP; DOI: 10.1021/ja110522x].

Needle-in-a-haystack search identifies potential brain disease drug

Scientists who examined more than 10,000 chemical compounds during the last year in search of potential new drugs for a group of untreatable brain diseases, are reporting that one substance shows unusual promise. The early positive signs for so-called prion diseases come from research in laboratory mice and cell cultures, they say in a report in ACS' Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

Adam Renslo and colleagues, who include Nobel Laureate Stanley B. Prusiner, explain that prion diseases include conditions like mad cow disease in animals and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans, result from deposits of abnormal prion protein in brain tissue. Prion diseases are invariably fatal and no treatments are yet available.

The scientists describe narrowing their search among the 10,000 candidate drugs to a few dozen of the most promising and then synthesizing new variations of the compounds, termed aminothiazoles. Tests on laboratory mice showed that the new compounds can reach the brain and reach high concentrations when taken orally and do not appear toxic. Tests on prion-infected mouse brain cells showed that the compounds reduced the amount of the abnormal prion protein. The compounds appear to be among the most promising potential treatments for prion diseases yet discovered, the report suggests.

Journal of Medicinal Chemistry: "2-Aminothiazoles as Therapeutic Leads for Prion Diseases" [J. Med. Chem., 2011, 54 (4), pp 1010–1021; DOI: 10.1021/jm101250y].

High vitamin-D bread could help solve widespread insufficiency problem

With most people unable to get enough vitamin D from sunlight or foods, scientists are suggesting that a new vitamin D-fortified food - bread made with high-vitamin D yeast - could fill that gap. Their study, confirming that the approach works in laboratory tests, appears in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Connie Weaver and colleagues cite studies suggesting that up to 7 in 10 people in the United States may not get enough vitamin D, which enables the body to absorb calcium. Far from just contributing to healthy bones, however, vitamin D seems to have body-wide beneficial effects. Vitamin D insufficiency has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, allergy in children, and other conditions. With few good natural sources of vitamin D, milk producers long have added it to milk. Weaver explains, however, that dairy products do not provide enough. The body makes its own vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. But people are not exposed to sun in winter and are avoiding the sun and using sun blocks in summer. Scientists thus have been looking for new ways to add vitamin D to the diet.

Weaver's group did experiments with laboratory rats, a stand-in for humans in such research, that ease doubts over whether bread baked with high vitamin D yeast could be a solution. The doubts originated because yeast produces one form of the vitamin, termed vitamin D2, which has been thought to be not as biologically active as the form produced by sun, vitamin D3. They showed bread made with vitamin D2-rich yeast, fed to the laboratory rats, had effects that seemed just as beneficial as vitamin D3. "Our results suggest that bread made with high vitamin D yeast could be a valuable new source of vitamin D in the diet," they concluded.

The authors acknowledge support from Lallemand/American Yeast.

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Bioavailability and Efficacy of Vitamin D2 from UV-Irradiated Yeast in Growing, Vitamin D-Deficient Rats" [J. Agric. Food Chem., Article ASAP, 2011; DOI: 10.1021/jf104679c].

Chemistry and Life

Chemistry and Life

The science of chemistry is Janus-faced. One face embodies the countless services it provides for mankind; the other, pollution and industrial disasters. Are we right to trust chemistry, or should we be suspicious of it? Everyone must make up his or her own mind. Reading the views expressed by the specialists who have contributed to this special issue – Jean-Marie Lehn, Michal Meyer, Tebello Nyokong, Anlong Xu, Klaus Lackner and Akira Suzuki – will help inform this choice:

- The Science and Art of Matter; - How it all started; - I love laser: it’s my guiding light; - Herbs and metal; - India’s pharmaceutical boom; - New diet for the ozone eaters; -Iron tonic for the ocean’s anaemia; - Synthetic trees; - From dark to green ages; - Letter to a young chemist.

Read More:

Chemistry and Life,

The UNESCO Courier (Januay-March 2011).

Inhaling 'Red Mud Disaster' dust may not be as harmful to health as feared

Red Mud Dust

Red mud produced by the recent industrial accident in Hungary may not be as harmful to health as feared.

Credit: American Chemical Society

Scientists in Hungary are reporting that the potential health effects of last October's Red Mud Disaster, one of the worst environmental accidents in Europe, may be less dangerous than previously feared. Their study, reported in ACS's journal Environmental Science and Technology, concludes that the dust from the mud may be no more harmful than particles of ordinary urban air pollution.

Mihály Pósfai and colleagues point out that a burst dam at a factory that processes aluminum ore last October inundated areas near Ajka in northern Hungary with more than 700,000 cubic yards of caustic red mud. Ten people died and dozens were injured. Since the mud contained potentially toxic substances, concern arose about the health effects of inhaling dust formed when the mud dried and was swept into the air by wind.

They studied the chemical and physical properties of the red mud particles and dust and concluded that particles of red mud dust were too large to be inhaled deeply into lungs, where they could cause the most damage. Although the resuspension potential of red mud dust is large, inhalation likely would cause irritation and coughing, but would not increase the risk of other more serious health problems, the report suggested.

Environmental Science & Technology: "The red mud accident in Ajka (Hungary): Characterization and potential health effects of fugitive dust" [Environ. Sci. Technol., 2011, 45 (4), pp 1608–1615; DOI: 10.1021/es104005r].

Killer paper for next-generation food packaging

Scientists are reporting development and successful lab tests of "killer paper," a material intended for use as a new food packaging material that helps preserve foods by fighting the bacteria that cause spoilage. The paper, described in ACS's journal, Langmuir, contains a coating of silver nanoparticles, which are powerful anti-bacterial agents.

Aharon Gedanken and colleagues note that silver already finds wide use as a bacteria fighter in certain medicinal ointments, kitchen and bathroom surfaces, and even odor-resistant socks. Recently, scientists have been exploring the use of silver nanoparticles - each 1/50,000 the width of a human hair - as germ-fighting coatings for plastics, fabrics, and metals. Nanoparticles, which have a longer-lasting effect than larger silver particles, could help overcome the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, in which bacteria develop the ability to shrug-off existing antibiotics. Paper coated with silver nanoparticles could provide an alternative to common food preservation methods such as radiation, heat treatment, and low temperature storage, they note. However, producing "killer paper" suitable for commercial use has proven difficult.

The scientists describe development of an effective, long-lasting method for depositing silver nanoparticles on the surface of paper that involves ultrasound, or the use of high frequency sound waves. The coated paper showed potent antibacterial activity against E. coli and S. aureus, two causes of bacterial food poisoning, killing all of the bacteria in just three hours. This suggests its potential application as a food packaging material for promoting longer shelf life, they note.

Langmuir: "Sonochemical Coating of Paper by Microbiocidal Silver Nanoparticles" [2011, 27 (2), pp 720–726; DOI: 10.1021/la103401z].

The race to bring biofuels to the pump

Poised at the starting gate are palm oil, sugar cane, corn cobs, and switch grass. On your mark, get set... This is not a race among fruits and vegetables, but instead a real-life contest to decide which biofuel raw materials and technologies make it to the gas pump. That quest to develop a sustainable supply of affordable biofuels and bring them to the market is the topic of the cover story in the current edition of Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN), ACS's weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN Senior Correspondent Stephen Ritter notes that scientists have largely met the technical challenges of developing biofuels - fuels made from renewable biological resources - to supplement and eventually replace gasoline and diesel fuel. Starting points for biofuels include sugars, starches, vegetable oils, recycled paper, and other biomass. All of those materials can be processed into fuels. The benefits include energy security by eliminating dependence on imported oil and a reduction in the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.

But the technological fog of uncertainties obscures the road to the finish line. One major problem, for example, involves the logistics of biomass availability, transport, and storage. To be commercially viable, biomass fuel factories will need up to 30 million pounds of biomass per day. Fermentation facilities, which convert sugar to ethanol, would need about 10 million pounds. To win, companies must develop long-term reliable feedstock supplies and find partners to buy and market their fuel.

Chemical and Engineering News: "Race to the Pump" [Volume 89, Number7, February 14,2011, DOI: 10.1021/CEN020911090424].

First identification of endocrine disruptors in algae blooms

Scientists are reporting for the first time that previously unrecognized substances released by algae blooms have the potential to act as endocrine disruptors, which can interfere with the normal activity of reproductive hormones. The effect is not caused by microcystin toxins, long recognized as potentially harmful to humans and aquatic animals, but as yet unidentified substances. As a result, the scientists are calling for a revision of environmental monitoring programs to watch for these new substances. The findings appear in ACS's journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Theodore Henry and colleagues note that harmful blooms of toxin-producing algae, called cyanobacteria or blue-green algae, occur in waters throughout the world and are a growing health and environmental concern. The algae produce microcystins that can harm fish, plants, and human health. Possible human health effects include skin rashes, fever, and liver damage. Although scientists have focused mainly on microcystins' biological effects, new evidence suggests that other potentially harmful substances also may be present.

In an effort to find out, Emily Rogers supervised by Theodore Henry, and co-authors Michael Twiner, Julia Gouffon, Jackson McPherson, Gregory Boyer, Gary Sayler, and Steven Wilhelm turned to zebrafish, often used as a stand-in for people and other animals in laboratory experiments. They found that something released by algae, other than microcystins, had an endocrine disrupting effect on the fish. The report recommends that environmental protection agencies may need to update monitoring programs for algae blooms to include potential endocrine-disrupting substances.

The scientists acknowledge funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Environmental Science & Technology: "Global gene expression profiling in larval zebrafish exposed to microcystin-LR and Microcystis reveals endocrine disrupting effects of cyanobacteria" [Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP; DOI: 10.1021/es103538b].

Greener process for key ingredient for everything from paint to diapers

Scientists are reporting discovery of an environmentally friendly way to make a key industrial material - used in products ranging from paints to diapers - from a renewable raw material without touching the traditional pricey and increasingly scarce petroleum-based starting material. Their report on a new catalyst for making acrylic acid appears in ACS Catalysis, the newest in the American Chemical Society's suite of 39 peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Weijie Ji, Chak-Tong Au, and colleagues note that acrylic acid is essential for making paints, adhesives, textiles, leather treatments, and hundreds of other products. Global demand for the colorless liquid totals about 4 million tons annually. Acrylic acid is typically made from propylene obtained from petroleum. With prices rising, manufacturers have been seeking alternative ways of making acrylic acid without buying propylene. One possibility involves making it from lactic acid. But current processes for using lactic acid are inefficient, less selective, and require higher temperatures and the accompanying high inputs of energy.

The scientists' potential solution is a new catalyst that can convert lactic acid into acrylic acid more efficiently. Lactic acid is a classic renewable starting material, produced by bacteria growing in vats of biomass such as glucose and starch from plants. In laboratory studies, the scientists showed that the new catalyst can convert lactic acid to acrylic acid more selectively at lower temperatures. This could mean better use of lactic acid, lower fuel consumption, and less impact on the environment, the scientists suggest.

ACS Catalysis: "Efficient Acrylic Acid Production through Bio Lactic Acid Dehydration over NaY Zeolite Modified by Alkali Phosphates" [ACS Catal., 2011, 1 (1), pp 32–41; DOI: 10.1021/cs100047p].

Toward a fast, simple test for detecting cholera rampaging in 40 countries

With cholera on the rampage in Haiti and almost 40 other countries, scientists are reporting the development of a key advance that could provide a fast, simple test to detect the toxin that causes the disease. The report appears in ACS' journal Bioconjugate Chemistry. Cholera affects more than 200,000 people annually, mainly in developing countries, and causes about 5,000 deaths. Many involve infants, children, and the elderly.

J. Manuel Perez and colleagues note that cholera is an intestinal infection from food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It produces a toxin that can cause severe diarrhea, which can lead to rapid dehydration and death. Prompt treatment thus is essential, and yet existing tests to diagnose cholera are time-consuming, expensive, and require the use of complex equipment.

The scientists describe a key advance toward a better, faster test. The new method uses specially prepared nanoparticles of iron oxide, each barely 1/50,000th the width of a single human hair, coated with a type of sugar called dextran. To achieve this, they looked for specific characteristics of the cholera toxin receptor (GM1) found on cells' surface in the victim's gut, and then they introduced these features to their nanoparticles. When the magnetic nanoparticles are added to water, blood, or other fluids to be tested, the cholera toxin binds to the nanoparticles in a way that can be easily detected by instruments. The test hardware can be turned into portable gear that health care workers could use in the field, the scientists say. The approach also shows promise for treating cholera intoxication.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health.

Bioconjugate Chemistry: "Identification of Molecular-Mimicry-Based Ligands for Cholera Diagnostics using Magnetic Relaxation" [Bioconjugate Chem., Article ASAP; DOI: 10.1021/bc100442q].

Chocolate is a 'Super Fruit'

It is widely known that fruit contains antioxidants which may be beneficial to health. New research published in the open access journal Chemistry Central Journal demonstrates that chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants and contains more polyphenols and flavanols than fruit juice.

When researchers at the Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition™ compared the antioxidant activity in cocoa powder and fruit powders they found that, gram per gram, there was more antioxidant capacity, and a greater total flavanol content, in the cocoa powder.

Similarly when they compared the amount of antioxidants, per serving, of dark chocolate, cocoa, hot chocolate mix and fruit juices they found that both dark chocolate and cocoa had a greater antioxidant capacity and a greater total flavanol, and polyphenol, content than the fruit juices. However hot chocolate, due to processing (alkalization) of the chocolate, contained little of any.

Dr Debra Miller, the senior author of the paper, says that, “Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit” providing nutritive value beyond that of their macronutrient composition”. Which is great news for chocolate lovers.

Chemistry Central Journal: "Cacao seeds are a 'Super Fruit': A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products" [2011, 5:5, 7 February 2011].

Air pollutants from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves raise health concerns

WASHINGTON - With millions of people warding off winter's chill with blazing fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, scientists are raising red flags about the potential health effects of the smoke released from burning wood. Their study, published in the American Chemical Society's (ACS') journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology, found that the invisible particles inhaled into the lungs from wood smoke may have several adverse health effects. It is among 39 peer-reviewed scientific journals published by ACS, the world's largest scientific society.

Steffen Loft, Ph.D., and colleagues cite the abundant scientific evidence linking inhalation of fine particles of air pollution - so-called "particulate matter" - from motor vehicle exhaust, coal-fired electric power plants, and certain other sources with heart disease, asthma, bronchitis and other health problems. However, relatively little information of that kind exists about the effects of wood smoke particulate matter (WSPM), even though millions of people around the world use wood for home heating and cooking and routinely inhale WSPM.

The scientists analyzed and compared particulate matter in air from the center of a village in Denmark where most residents used wood stoves to a neighboring rural area with few wood stoves, as well as to pure WSPM collected from a wood stove. Airborne particles in the village and pure WSPM tended to be of the most potentially hazardous size - small enough to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lungs. WSPM contained higher levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which include "probable" human carcinogens. When tested on cultures of human cells, WSPM also caused more damage to the genetic material, DNA; more inflammation; and had greater activity in turning on genes in ways linked to disease.

The authors acknowledged funding from the National Research Councils, Denmark; and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.

Chemical Research in Toxicology: "Oxidative Stress, DNA Damage, and Inflammation Induced by Ambient Air and Wood Smoke Particulate Matter in Human A549 and THP-1 Cell Lines" [Chem. Res. Toxicol., Article ASAP; DOI: 10.1021/tx100407m].

Vegans' elevated heart risk requires omega-3s and B12

People who follow a vegan lifestyle - strict vegetarians who try to eat no meat or animal products of any kind - may increase their risk of developing blood clots and atherosclerosis or "hardening of the arteries," which are conditions that can lead to heart attacks and stroke. That's the conclusion of a review of dozens of articles published on the biochemistry of vegetarianism during the past 30 years. The article appears in ACS' bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Duo Li notes in the review that meat eaters are known for having a significantly higher combination of cardiovascular risk factors than vegetarians. Lower-risk vegans, however, may not be immune. Their diets tend to be lacking several key nutrients - including iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. While a balanced vegetarian diet can provide enough protein, this isn't always the case when it comes to fat and fatty acids. As a result, vegans tend to have elevated blood levels of homocysteine and decreased levels of HDL, the "good" form of cholesterol. Both are risk factors for heart disease.

It concludes that there is a strong scientific basis for vegetarians and vegans to increase their dietary omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 to help contend with those risks. Good sources of omega-3s include salmon and other oily fish, walnuts and certain other nuts. Good sources of vitamin B12 include seafood, eggs, and fortified milk. Dietary supplements also can supply these nutrients.

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Chemistry behind Vegetarianism" [J. Agric. Food Chem., 2011, 59 (3), pp 777–784].

New gift from Mother Nature’s medicine chest may help prevent and treat bone diseases

One of Mother Nature's latest gifts to medical science is stirring excitement with the discovery that the substance - obtained from a coral-reef inhabiting cyanobacterium - appears to be an ideal blueprint for developing new drugs for serious fractures, osteoporosis, and other bone diseases. That's the conclusion of a study on the substance, Largazole, in the journal ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters.

By some estimates, more than half of today's medications are in Largazole's family, the "natural products." They come from trees, snails, scorpion venom, soil bacteria, other plants and animals; however, so far only a few come from the ocean. In the report, Jiyong Hong, Seong Hwan Kim, Hendrik Luesch and colleagues indicate that Largazole was derived from and named for marine cyanobacteria that grow in Key Largo, Florida. Largazole, they add, already has attracted scientific attention for its ability to kill cancer cells in laboratory experiments.

Their research in laboratory dishes and test animals showed that Largazole has an unusual dual action on injured or diseased bones. It stimulates a process in the body called osteogenesis, which involves the growth of new bone and the repair of damaged bone. Largazole also blocks the oppose process in which the body naturally breaks down and resorbs bone. Both of those benefits, the scientists found, come from Largazole's effects on proteins called histone deacetylases, which are a sort of master control switch for protein production. Drugs that block histone deacetylases are currently used to treat cancer, and they may have other health benefits as well. The researchers also showed that Largazole mixed with collagen and calcium phosphate, bone components, helped heal fractured bones in laboratory mice and rabbits.

ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters: "In Vitro and In Vivo Osteogenic Activity of Largazole" [ACS Med. Chem. Lett., Article ASAP, 2011; DOI: 10.1021/ml1002794].

'Red mud' disaster's main threat to crops is not toxic metals

As farmers in Hungary ponder spring planting on hundreds of acres of farmland affected by last October's red mud disaster, scientists are reporting that high alkalinity is the main threat to a bountiful harvest, not toxic metals. In a study in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, they also describe an inexpensive decontamination strategy using the mineral gypsum, an ingredient in plaster.

Erik Smolders and colleagues note that a dam burst at a factory processing aluminum ore, flooding the surrounding land with more than 700,000 cubic yards of a byproduct termed red mud. At least 10 people died and hundreds were injured in Hungary's worst-ever environmental disaster. Red mud contains toxic metals like arsenic, chromium, cadmium and nickel. The mud also contains radioactive elements and is highly alkaline, caustic enough to burn skin and eyes. On the scale for measuring acidity or alkalinity, 7 is neutral, anything above 7 is alkaline and below is acid. Red mud is about one million times more alkaline than a neutral material. With up to 4 inches of red mud coating farmland, concerns arose about red mud's potential impact on the 2011 planting of corn, alfalfa, and other crops. With little scientific knowledge about red mud's effects on plant growth, much of the concern focused on toxic metals.

The scientists' tests showed that plants in contaminated soil grew about 25 percent slower than crops grown in uncontaminated soil. The main culprit, however, appeared to be not toxic metals or radioactivity, but red mud's intense alkalinity and salt content. Adding gypsum to the red mud can reduce alkalinity and will accelerate the removal of the salts, the scientists add, recommending long-term monitoring of metals in the crops to remove any concerns with food chain contamination.

Environmental Science & Technology: "The Red Mud Accident in Ajka (Hungary): Plant Toxicity and Trace Bioavailability in Red Mud Contaminated Soil" [Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, 2011; DOI: 10.1021/es104000m].

Shoo fly: Catnip oil repels bloodsucking flies

Catnip, the plant that attracts domestic cats like an irresistible force, has proven 99 percent effective in repelling the blood-sucking flies that attack horses and cows, causing $2 billion in annual loses to the cattle industry. That's the word from a report published in ACS' biweekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Junwei Zhu and colleagues note that stable flies not only inflict painful bites, but also transmit multiple diseases. Cattle harried by these bloodsuckers may produce less meat and milk, have trouble reproducing, and develop diseases that can be fatal. All traditional methods for controlling stable flies - even heavy applications of powerful insecticides - have proven less than effective. The scientists thus turned to catnip oil, already known to repel more than a dozen families of insects, including house flies, mosquitoes and cockroaches.

They made pellets of catnip oil, soy, and paraffin wax, and spread them in a cattle feedlot. Within minutes, the pellets shooed the flies away, with the repellent action lasting for about three hours. Pellets without catnip oil, in contrast, had no effect. The scientists now are working on making the repellent action last longer, which they say is the key to putting catnip to use in protecting livestock both in feedlots and pastures.

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry "Repellency of a Wax-Based Catnip-Oil Formulation against Stable Flies" [J. Agric. Food Chem., 2010, 58 (23), pp 12320–12326; DOI: 10.1021/jf102811k].

Secrets of plant warfare underpin quest for safer, more secure global food supply

Like espionage agents probing an enemy's fortifications, scientists are snooping out the innermost secrets of the amazing defense mechanisms that plants use to protect themselves from diseases. The effort - intended to discover ways of bolstering those natural defenses and enhance the safety and security of the global food supply - is the topic of an article in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN Associate Editor Sarah Everts notes that plants use a battery of cunning mechanisms to protect themselves from disease. When microbes breach those immune defenses, epidemics like the Irish potato famine or wheat stem rust can mean starvation and displacement for millions of people.

The article describes how scientists are intensively studying plant immune mechanisms. Over the last 20 years, for instance, scientists have made inroads into the complex chemical architecture of those defenses. The insights include the identification of a gene for the first receptor protein involved in plant immunity as well as the discovery of plant structures that recognize invading microorganisms. Those and other insights could underpin development of more effective and more sustainable ways of fighting crop pests.

Chemical & Engineering News: "Vegetative Warfare" [Volume 89, number 5, pp 53-55].


Kewords: Chemistry, news, reports, February 2011
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