ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.May 8, 2007


This week's grant goes to Bassam Shakhashiri for pioneering work in engaging the public with science and for helping to rebuild education programs after decimation by Reagan funding cuts in the 1980s. In chemistry news this week, The Alchemist learns about slow-release drug formulations that prevent drug abuse, the risks of war associated with using depleted uranium in munitions and armor, and the analytical benefits of red wine that could turn up on labels to guide consumers to the most healthful Chianti or Zindanfel. Also, this week, a well to wheel analysis reveals that hybrid cars are not as green as you would think and that converting natural gas to hydrogen for use in fuel cells could be the best environmental option for transport. Finally, web-savvy chemists using the Firefox browser have a new tool available to them that offers inline entries from blogs while they read ACS, RSC, Wiley, and other journal tables of contents.

Professor Bassam Shakhashiri, a pioneer in developing new ways to improve public understanding of science will receive the 2007 National Science Board Public Service Award for his enthusiastic communications and visually exciting chemical demonstrations. Shakhashiri, who is a scientist at the University of Wisconsin and was a National Science Foundation (NSF) assistant director in the late 1980s also played a large part in rebuilding education programs at NSF following cuts during the early years of the Reagan Administration. Shakhashiri will receive the award at a ceremony May 14 at the State Department in Washington, DC.

Alpharma Inc revealed positive results of pharmacokinetic studies into its investigational abuse-deterrent opioid painkiller. Most opioid painkillers, including morphine, codeine, and diamorphine are open to abuse. Finding effective analgesics based on the potent opioid template that do not lead to dependency but are just as effective as painkillers is a difficult task facing the pharmaceutical industry. Alpharma's extended-release morphine sulfate contains a sequestered antagonist naltrexone and could offer physicians a potent alternative for treating moderate to severe chronic pain without stimulating dependency and addiction problems. If the product is taken as directed, it will provide slow release analgesia. However, if the capsules are chewed, crushed, or otherwise tampered with the antagonist is released and counters the putative euphoric effects of ingesting the opioid.

Exposure to depleted uranium (DU) particles is a source of growing concern internationally as it increases the risk of lung cancer, according to John Pierce Wise Sr of the University of Southern Maine. Writing in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology the researchers explain that DU has a density twice that of lead and so is used in military armor and munitions. However, DU dust produced in combat can lead to frequent and widespread exposure of military personnel and civilians during an after combat. Few studies have been undertaken, bit Wise and his colleagues have now tested the effects of DU on cultures of human lung cells. "This is the first report on the cytotoxicity and clastogenicity [chromosome damaging potential] of particulate and soluble DU in human bronchial cells," the researchers say.

Study after study seems to conclude that resveratrol and related compound found in red wine have health benefits, despite the fact that red wine also contains a potent toxin, ethanol. Now, Richard Hoffman and Conny Johansson working at the University of Hertfordshire, England, have used HPLC and LC-MS to separate and collect the compounds found in random supermarket wines. "We assume that all red wines are the same," Hoffman says, "but we have found this is certainly not the case as the levels of resveratrol vary between labels." The researchers are working with wine producers to create a labeling system that gives consumers resveratrol health advice.

Norwegian scientists have drawn up a league table of alternative fuels for cars based on what they call a "well-to-wheel" analysis. Their approach takes into account the energy costs in manufacturing, total energy use, and overall pollution included greenhouse gas emissions. Unsurprisingly, petrol and diesel vehicles foot the table, closely followed by hybrid vehicles. In contrast, the greenest way to power a vehicle turns out to be to use an electric fuel cell powered by hydrogen made from natural gas, methane. "It must be emphasized that no single chain comes out with the best score on all impact categories," the researchers say, "There are always some sorts of trade offs involved. Thus, there are no obvious winners; only good or bad trade offs between different impact categories."

A Greasemonkey script for the Firefox web browser has been released that allows users to modify what they see when they visit standard chemistry journal contents pages. The script, written by Noel O'Boyle of the University of Cambridge, and based on an original genomics concept by Pedro Beltrao. The script currently works with journals from ACS, Nature, Oxford, PLOS, PNAS, RSC, and Wiley and shows cross references from other websites, such as blogs that discuss particular papers from those publishers. The script does not interfere with the publishers' site in any way, it simply changes how the page is displayed in the Firefox browser and represents another innovative way in which IT is being exploited more fully for the benefit of chemistry.