Highlights of American Chemical Society national meeting in Philadelphia, Aug. 22-26



PHILADELPHIA -- Advancements in energy and fuel research, environmental concerns about the effects of pharmaceuticals and personal care products, potential biomarkers for improving disease diagnosis and new findings about the health benefits of foods and food supplements are among the topics addressed at the 228th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, in Philadelphia, Aug. 22-26. The meeting, which includes approximately 7,000 research presentations, will also feature symposia on decontamination of sites affected by bioterrorism, new findings about the chemical origins of life and the ongoing debate over organic vs. conventionally grown foods. Selected topics are described below.

Sunday, Aug. 22

Gene for strawberry flavor identified -- Researchers in Germany have identified, for the first time, the gene that is responsible for producing the chemical that is thought to be chiefly responsible for the unique flavor of strawberries. The finding could lead to more flavorful strawberries as well as genetically engineered hybrid fruits with unique flavors and aromas, they say. The presentation is part of a two-day symposium, "Genetic Engineering in Flavor Chemistry," held Aug. 22-23. (AGFD 15, Sunday, Aug. 22, 10:10 a.m., Courtyard by Marriott, Room 102)

Selenium good for the heart, studies confirm -- Researchers have found new evidence in animal and human studies that selenium supplementation may protect against heart disease. In an animal model, selenium supplementation significantly decreased the extent of atherosclerosis. Of the dietary supplements available commercially that were tested in humans, selenium yeast appeared to be more bioavailable than sodium selenite. Organic selenium, such as is present in yeast, is also a much more powerful antioxidant than inorganic selenite, according to a test-tube model of heart disease. The presentation is part of a two-day symposium, "Lipid Oxidation and Antioxidants: Chemistry, Methodologies, and Health Effects," held Aug. 22-23. (AGFD 27, Sunday, Aug. 22, 3:10 p.m., Courtyard by Marriott, Ballroom Salon III & IV)

Monday, Aug. 23

Is organic food more nutritious? -- Many consumers believe that organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally grown food. But some researchers question the studies that appear to support this claim. A variety of papers will be presented on the issue during an all-day symposium, "Is Organic Food Healthier than Conventional Food," to be held Monday, Aug. 23. (AGRO 19-25, 34-40, Monday, Aug. 23, 8:30 a.m. 5 p.m., Courtyard by Marriott, Room 104)

Radiation treatment for infectious diseases -- It may be possible to use radiation to treat fungal, bacterial and even viral infections, according to researchers with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "The field of infectious diseases is currently facing significant challenges given an increasing prevalence of highly resistant microorganisms, the emergence of new microbes and the existence of large numbers of immunosuppressed individuals in whom standard antimicrobial therapy is often not effective," says Ekaterina (Kate) Dadachova, Ph.D., assistant professor of nuclear medicine at the college. "Furthermore, the specter of biological warfare has raised a new threat to humanity from infectious diseases," she notes. Dadachova and her microbiology collaborators, Arturo Casadevall and Liiseanne Pirofski, believe radiolabeled antibodies can be used as an anti-infective modality and could be developed for the treatment of various infectious diseases. (NUCL 10, Monday, Aug. 23, 10:20 a.m., Pennsylvania Convention Center, 109A, during the symposium, "Recent Advances in Diagnostic and Therapeutic Radiopharmaceutical Chemistry.")

Protecting against possible future bioterrorism attacks -- Following the mailing of anthrax spores to selected members of Congress and the media in 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency was tasked with overseeing the clean-up fumigation of seven sites, including five mail facilities. "Decontamination of civilian sites in the U.S. affected by known agents of bioterrorism was never performed prior to the 2001 attacks," says Dorothy Canter, Ph.D., EPA's Chief Scientist for Bioterrorism Issues. "Anthrax spores represent the most difficult biothreat agent to clean up," she adds. Canter will discuss the various cleanup approaches used and the costs involved. She also will describe lessons learned, both with respect to responding to possible future bioterrorism attacks and to preparing for and protecting against such attacks. (CHAS 11, Monday, Aug. 23, 2:25 p.m., Loews, Lescaze, during the symposium, "Facility Contamination and Decontamination: Implications for Worker Safety, the Environment and Homeland Security.")

Early life forms did not need enzymes to replicate, chemist says -- When living cells divide, DNA is copied with the aid of polymerases, a class of very complex protein enzymes. But it is generally believed that such complex enzymes did not exist in early life forms. Then how did DNA and RNA molecules, also known as nucleic acids, synthesize and reproduce in early life forms without the aid of these proteins? Nicholas V. Hud, Ph.D., a chemist with Georgia Institute of Technology, may have found an answer. In laboratory studies, he showed that a small, non-protein molecule called proflavine can greatly enhance the synthesis of nucleic acids. "During the early stages of life," says Hud, "molecules similar to proflavine may have acted as "molecular midwives," molecules that brought about the first self-replicating systems, but were no longer needed once life evolved proteins to replicate DNA." His work sheds light on the molecules and chemical reactions that may have been responsible for the origin of life on Earth some 4 billion years ago. Hud's presentation is part of a daylong symposium, "Astrobiology and the Origin of Life." (GEOC 25, Monday, Aug. 23, 3:20 p.m.)

Tuesday, Aug. 24

Chemistry at ultra-low temperatures -- Although it's freezing in outer space, chemistry happens all the time. Stars are born, gasses collide and reactions are set in motion. Here on Earth, physical chemists are tapping new techniques -- including nano-helium droplets and altered electric fields -- to study chemical reactions at the ultra-low temperatures, less than those found in space. What's more, by slowing classic chemical reactions to a frigid millionth of a degree Kelvin, scientists can study the reactions in more detail than ever possible at room temperatures. This three-day symposium features more than 30 presentations that showcase some of fascinating research going on in the area of physical chemistry. (PHYS 175-179, 210-215, 248-253, 290-295, 687-692, 716-721, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 8:00 a.m. 5:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Aug. 25, 8:20 a.m. 5:00 p.m.; Thursday, Aug. 26, 8:00 a.m. 5:00 p.m., Pennsylvania Convention Center, Room 102-A&B, during the symposium, "Chemistry at Ultra-low temperatures.")

Current energy crisis may signal bigger problems around the corner, scientist warns -- Geologist Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, predicts that world oil production will peak on Thanksgiving Day, 2005, and production rates will subsequently fall. As he argues in his book, "Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage," this decline could spur a global economic crisis, the likes of which the world has never seen. Deffeyes now claims that the current spike in energy prices may just be the leading edge of this crisis. His presentation is part of a daylong Presidential symposium, "Fuels for the Future: Leading the Way with Chemistry." (FUEL 112, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 9:05 a.m.)

Wednesday, Aug. 25

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products: Environmental challenges, solutions -- A two-day symposium will explore various aspects of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the environment, including drug occurrence, monitoring, transport, fate, treatment and environmental effects in both water and soil. (ENVR 183-189, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 1:30 p.m.-4:20 p.m., followed by a panel discussion at 4:25 p.m., Loews, Commonwealth B; ENVR 268-274, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Pennsylvania Convention Center, Hall D, Poster session; ENVR 283-291, Thursday, Aug. 26, 8:00 a.m.-noon., Loews, Commonwealth B; ENVR 307-314, Thursday, Aug. 26, 1:30 p.m.-4:50 p.m., Loews, Commonwealth B)

Biomarkers for ALS - Lou Gehrig's Disease -- Researchers have developed a technology to understand physiology from the point of view of biochemistry by quantitatively measuring the metabolic pool size of all of the biochemicals in a sample. This is often referred to as metabolomics. With this approach, "we have discovered potential biomarkers that could be diagnostic for ALS and are working to validate our findings," says Chris Beecher, Ph.D., vice president of biochemistry & technology at Metabolon, Inc., in Research Triangle Park, N.C. "We believe that the metabolomic approach may yield diagnostic markers for many disease states as well as provide targets for drug discovery," adds Beecher. (ANYL 192, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 3:50 p.m., Loews, Regency C1, during the symposium, "Analytical Chemistry in the Health Sciences: Metabonomics.")

Thursday, Aug. 26

High levels of contraceptives found in seawater in New England bay -- There's something very fishy happening in New England's Buzzards Bay, an area of southeastern Massachusetts known for its large shellfish and lobster habitats. Previous studies by others have observed continuous declines in lobster and other fish. Now, researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth say that they may have identified a possible culprit: They found high levels of a highly active contraceptive, ethinylestradiol, along with two natural estrogenic compounds (estrone and 17-beta-estradiol), in the seawater that the researchers say could ultimately explain the fish decline. (ENVR 286, Thursday, Aug. 26, 9:15 a.m., Loews, Commonwealth B, during the symposium "Environmental Aspects of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products.)

Measles: Compounds that inhibit virus could help close vaccination gap -- Measles remains a major cause of worldwide mortality, killing almost 1 million people annually. Despite the availability of a vaccine, interference from maternal antibodies and parental concerns about vaccine safety have resulted in continuing outbreaks. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta have developed a series of promising small-molecule compounds that could help close this vaccination gap. In laboratory studies, the non-peptidic compounds inhibit the measles virus and block the virus from entering cells. Although further testing is needed, the researchers hope that the development will ultimately save lives. (MEDI 333, Thursday, Aug. 26, 11:30 a.m., Pennsylvania Convention Center, Room 204A. Also part of Sci-Mix on Monday, Aug. 23, 8 p.m.-10:00 p.m., Pennsylvania Convention Center, Hall D. Embargoed for Monday, Aug. 23, 8 p.m.).

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization, chartered by the U.S. Congress, with a multidisciplinary membership of more than 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers. It publishes numerous scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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