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American Chemical Society's weekly PressPac -- May 6, 2009

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

Please credit the individual journal or the American Chemical Society as the source for this information.

PressPac Archive:


Advance toward producing biofuels without stressing global food supply
Journal of the American Chemical Society

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

"Synthesis of Methyl Halides from Biomass Using Engineered Microbes"


Christopher A. Voigt, Ph.D.
Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Chemistry and Chemical Biology Program
University of California
San Francisco, Calif. 94158-2330
Phone: 415-502-7050


Working on the railroad? Using concrete could help environment
Environmental Science & Technology

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

"Greenhouse Gas Emissions Embodied in Reinforced Concrete and Timber Railway Sleepers"


Robert H. Crawford, Ph.D.
University of Melbourne, Parkville
Parkville, Victoria
Phone: +61 3 8344 8745
Fax: +61 3 8344 0328


Sweet deception: New test distinguishes impure honey from the real thing
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

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

"Polysaccharides as a Marker for Detection of Corn Sugar Syrup Addition in Honey"


CONTACT: Bernard Herbreteau, Ph.D.
Universit de Lyon
Lyon, France
Phone: 33-4-72-43-11-52
Fax: 33-4-72-44-62-02


New "smart" polymer reduces radioactive waste at nuclear power plants
Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research

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.

Brje 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

"Synthesis and Characterization of Imprinted Polymers for Radioactive Waste Reduction"


Brje Sellergren, Ph.D.
University of Dortmund
Dortmund, Germany
Phone: +49-231-7554082
Fax: +49-231-7554084


New EU regulations force cosmetics firms to abandon safety tests in animals
Chemical & Engineering News

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.

"Europe's Beauty Race"

This story will be available on May 11 at:

Michael Bernstein
ACS News Service
Phone: 202-872-6042
Fax: 202-872-4370


Contact: Michael Woods
American Chemical Society

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