ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.August 18, 2005


This week, The Alchemist reports on the first crop genome, why you shouldn't swim when it's a full or a new moon, how to save money on laundry bills, the blue, blue rose coming to a garden near you, and why bowel disease is going to pot.

Red roses and blue cornflowers share a common chemistry - the pigment anthocyanin. But, in the red rose it appears red and in the blue cornflower…blue. Now, a Japanese team led by Masaaki Shiono of Kyushu University have discovered why. Cornflowers, they found, build a supramolecular complex from six anthocyanin groups bound to a flavone together with an iron, a magnesium and two calcium ions. Roses do not. The discovery might one day allow plant researchers to breed or engineer a new variety of rose with true blue flowers, something gardeners and plant lovers have sought for decades if not centuries.

British scientists have demonstrated that extracts from Cannabis sativa could help patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Karen Wright and her colleagues at Bath University have followed apocryphal evidence that shows sufferers of IBD who use cannabis gain relief from their often debilitating symptoms. They examined gut samples from healthy people and IBD patients and found that the numbers of receptors for natural cannabinoids are different in the two groups. Healthy people and IBD patients have similar numbers of CB1 receptors, but IBD patients have far more CB2 receptors. Wright says the study gives the first evidence that very selective cannabis-derived treatments may be useful as future therapeutic strategies in the treatment of IBD.

The International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP) team has published the complete DNA blueprint for rice - a crop that feeds more than half the world's population. The researchers report the finished rice genome in the August 11 issue of the Nature, and explain how their work reveals the location and sequence of over 37500 protein-encoding genes among the 389 million bases of the species' DNA. The IRGSP studied the japonica sub-species of rice, a strain that is cultivated in the USA, Japan, and Korea. This genome makes it the first crop plant to be sequenced completely and has important implications for combating diseases and pests affecting the crop.

A study of sixty beaches along the coast of southern California has revealed that water pollution varies with the lunar cycle, reaching the highest levels when tides are ebbing during new and full moons. The findings, reported in Environmental Science & Technology, could help beachgoers and managers better assess the potential risk of swimming. Alexandria Boehm of Stanford University and her colleagues in the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project found that in the full and new phases of the moon, levels of certain pathogenic bacteria were higher at the vast majority of the beaches studied. "Most sources of enterococci at beaches are unknown," Boehm says. "Because we found tidal signals in enterococci densities at beaches with no obvious point source, like storm drains and creeks, this suggests that there is a widespread tidally forced source of enterococci at beaches."

A new formulation of detergent and fabric softener has been developed by researchers at the University of Florida. The blend helps break down water's surface tension in the gaps between clothing fibers and so reduces the amount of water held by an item of clothing after washing. Dinesh Shah of the UF Center for Surface Science and Engineering and colleagues, in work supported by detergent manufacturer Procter & Gamble, reckon that the new washing liquid could cut drying times by at least 10% and so save US consumers around $300million each year in reduced power consumption by their more than 100 million electric dryers.