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Aside from some molds growing on “stinky” cheeses, molds are generally not good for human consumption. For example, we all know to stay away from bread with tell-tale green spots or white cottony threads on the slices. And we need to take special measures when black spots of mold appear on damp walls.


Mold can produce poisons called mycotoxins. These toxins can wind up in food either directly because a fungus grew on an ear of corn that a person eats, for example, or indirectly because a cow ate that infected ear of corn, and a person ate a steak from that cow. Mycotoxins also can cause problems if they are released into the air. Farmers can develop “farmers’ lung,” which shows up as flu-like symptoms, from such exposure.


Governments already put limits on the amounts of mold toxins in grain crops. But researchers now say in the ACS journal Chemical Research in Toxicology that these regulations should be expanded to include so-called “masked mycotoxins.” These versions change from harmless to potentially harmful forms once they are in the body.


In the report, Chiara Dall’Asta and colleagues explain some health experts regard mycotoxins as the most serious chronic dietary risk factor, greater than the potential health threats from pesticides and insecticides.


Plants protect themselves by binding or “conjugating” glucose, sulfur or other substances to a mycotoxin, producing conjugated mycotoxins that are not harmful to them. These are called “masked mycotoxins” because they are masked or hidden by that bound substance.


Dall’Asta explains that these masked mycotoxins are not included in current safety regulations because no one was really sure what happened when people and animals ate them.


The new study focused on two of the most widespread mycotoxin contaminants of grain crops — deoxynivalenol (DON) and zearalenone (ZEN). The authors say their results show, for the first time, that bacteria present in the large intestine in people deconjugate or “unmask” DON and ZEN, releasing the original toxic forms. “For this reason, masked mycotoxins should be considered when evaluating population exposure," the study concludes.


“Masked Mycotoxins Are Efficiently Hydrolyzed by Human Colonic Microbiota Releasing Their Aglycones,” Chemical Research in Toxicology



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We’ve all heard how coffee is good for you. Recent studies have linked drinking coffee with a lower risk for developing many conditions, including type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. It also has more healthful antioxidants than vegetables or fruit combined.


But surprisingly, a lot of antioxidants remain in the gunk in the filter when you brew that cup of joe, say researchers.

Of course, people around the world drink millions of cups of coffee every day. That generates an estimated 20 million tons of used grounds annually. Some spent coffee grounds are actually used commercially as farm fertilizer or in homes as plant food or insect repellant. But most used grounds end up in the trash.

Maria-Paz de Peña's team knew that coffee contained lots of antioxidants, and they wondered how much of those healthful compounds remained in used grounds. Specifically, which coffee-making method would leave the most antioxidants in the grounds?

In their report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, they found that filter, plunger and espresso-type coffeemakers left more antioxidants in coffee grounds, while mocha coffeemakers left the least. Because filter and espresso coffeemakers are more common in homes and commercial kitchens, the authors report that most grounds are likely to be good sources of antioxidants and other useful substances. They note that after these compounds are extracted, the grounds can still be used for fertilizer.

“Evaluation of Spent Coffee Obtained from the Most Common Coffeemakers as a Source of Hydrophilic Bioactive Compounds,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry



Credit: American Chemical Society


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It’s pretty easy to fit the millions of people who drink wine into categories. They love red and hate white, or vice versa, or they like both kinds of wine. Taking it to another level, when it comes to the art of pairing wine with food, the group of wine-drinkers shrinks dramatically. There are, however, some who know that a nice red Barolo works well with a mushroom risotto and that you can actually drink wine with chocolate peanut butter pie (a sweet dessert wine, Banyuls).

While some even enjoy wines that have a hint if smoke, too much of a good thing can be disastrous for the palate, and this is where a research team has come to the rescue.


They have created a way to identify grapes that have been exposed to smoke from the increasing number of wildfires around the globe which could be due to climate change. The smoke from these fires can travel long distances, and smokey grapes can produce bad-tasting wine. Grapes affected by too much smoke have unappealing aromas and taste like smoked meat or even a dirty ashtray, according to researchers.


Reporting in the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Yoji Hayasaka and colleagues said they developed a test to find the substances in grapes formed after the fruit comes into contact with smoke from large fires. With the test, they can find out if the grapes have been smoke-tainted before they are crushed and made into wine. This spares wine-drinkers the unpleasant experience of drinking a very unpalatable beverage.


“Assessing the Impact of Smoke Exposure in Grapes: Development and Validation of a HPLC-MS/MS Method for the Quantitative Analysis of Smoke-Derived Phenolic Glycosides in Grapes and Wine,” Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry




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Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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A substance in the sticky goo that mussels use to glom on to rocks and other surfaces could help ease tooth sensitivity. That’s welcome news to my ears — well, to my sensitive teeth!


Like 74 percent of the world’s population, I too have teeth that are sensitive to extremes in temperatures or to certain kinds of foods and drinks, like those that are sweet or acidic. Teeth hurt when the hard outer enamel layer and the softer underlying dentin wear away — it’s called demineralization. That makes it easier for things to stimulate the nerves that are inside the teeth. <Ouch!>


There are some sugar-free gums and special toothpastes on the market that can help reduce that tooth hyper-sensitivity. But none of these products can rebuild both the enamel and dentin simultaneously. And that’s what Quan-Li Li, Chun Hung Chu and colleagues wanted to do. But dentin and enamel break down and rebuild in different ways, complicating the issue.


To address this challenge, the researchers turned to a material in the adhesive that mussels use to stick to things. In that goo is a substance called polydopamine, which is already being investigated for use in many biomedical applications, such as drug delivery and biosensing.


In the paper, published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, they describe laboratory tests that involved bathing human teeth with worn-away enamel and dentin in liquid containing the sticky material and minerals. Teeth bathed in the sticky material and minerals reformed dentin and enamel. However, teeth bathed just in minerals reformed only enamel.


The gooey substance “may be a simple universal technique to induce enamel and dentin remineralization simultaneously,” they concluded.


“Polydopamine-Induced Tooth Remineralization,” ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces



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