ChemWeb Newsletter

Not a subscriber? Join now.March 13, 2007


This week an award for leadership and positive mentoring in chemistry for LSU professor, proof positive that Asian pollution could affect global weather, scratching fatty acids from the surface of stone buildings, and hundreds of new drug targets discovered in cancer battle. Finally, this week The Alchemist plans a spot of spring cleaning with a new type of duster for mopping up even the tiniest toxic particles and finds that filling up in the UK is more expensive than ever thanks to an inadvertent silicon injection into fuel.

This year's Council for Chemical Research Diversity Award will be given to chemistry professor Saundra McGuire, director of the Louisiana State University's Center for Academic Success. The award recognizes the positive impact of the recipient's leadership and impact on the advancement of minorities and women through recruitment, mentoring and improved access to research careers within chemistry-based sciences and engineering. The awards ceremony takes place in April where McGuire will receive an engraved plaque and a check for $3,000 to help fund a program in a chemistry-related field.

Weather getting you down? Blame pollution from Asia. At least that's the suggestion of researchers at Texas A&M University. Renyi Zhang and colleagues have carried out the first study of its kind to obtain incontrovertible evidence from satellite imaging and computer models, that anthropogenic pollution from China and the Indian sub-continent are adversely affecting the storm track over the Pacific Ocean. Both China and India have seen enormous industrialization recently and a concomitant increase in soot and sulfate aerosol emissions into the atmosphere. This pollution is carried across the Pacific Ocean by prevailing winds and is leading to an increase in deep convective clouds, which Zhang says will adversely affect the world's weather.

Surface pollution on old stone buildings is usually undesirable but new research could discern whether some of the discoloration could have a natural origin. A sooty patina usually arises in polluted cities but perhaps a biological film is the cause of discoloration of buildings in rural areas where vehicle and industrial pollution are not high. Beatriz Prieto and colleagues from the University of Santiago de Compostela and the Institute of Natural and Agrobiological Research (CSIC) collected patinas from various types of granite building across Northern Spain and looked for fatty acids in the patina on these buildings using gas chromatography on the samples. Of 18 features sampled only 7 contained no fatty acids, suggesting many patinas formed on granite surfaces could arise from biological matter.

Researchers have discovered that the human body harbors dozens of cancer genes any one of which might trigger the disease or conversely act as a pharmaceutical target to prevent or treat it. The international Cancer Genome Project identified approximately 120 previously unknown genes carrying mutations that promoting the disease. "This is a lot more cancer genes than we expected to find," Michael Stratton of the Wellcome Trust's Sanger Institute in Cambridge, England. The genes in question code for kinase enzymes and the researchers trawled 500 genes for these enzymes in 210 different types of cancer cell in the hope of finding relevant mutations. The genes make inviting targets for drug research, Stratton believes.

Dusting is a tedious household chore, but what if you had to deal with dust composed of radioactive particles or toxic chemicals that conventional dusting cloths simply cannot pick up? Inventor Ron Simandl is applying for a patent for a process to turn any material into a super cleaner. His treatment should work on any rag but has been tested on cheesecloth for six months with great success, he says. He is coy about the specifics but says a treated material can pick up metal, ceramic, plastic, fibers, radiological contaminants. Simandl says the cloth could be used for quickly mopping up industrial accidents or wiping down semiconductor clean rooms. He is also reluctant to reveal how it works, although emphasizes that the approach is by design not accident.

A contaminated fuel crisis in the UK has driven up prices leading consumer groups to claim that the supermarkets are cynically exploiting the debacle. A consignment of petrol (gas) from one particular fuel depot was allegedly contaminated with silicone, according to reports, leading to damage to the vehicles of hundreds of drivers and the discarding of thousands of gallons of fuel from the storage tanks of supermarket forecourts. Prices are said to have risen by 2.5p a liter (approx 20 cents per gallon) since as the companies try to absorb a 10 percent hike in the trading spot price for petrol. The supermarkets in their defense claim to be holding prices down. "I don't think the supermarkets could stand to be accused of both providing petrol that damaged cars and then putting the price up afterwards," says Ray Holloway of the Petrol Retailers' Association.