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This can’t be true, but it does seem like bananas and avocadoes start ripening the moment you put them into your shopping bag. Within just a few days, these fruits and vegetables turn an overripe brown. It takes a keen eye to pick out these foods at the store so that they will be ready when you want to add them to that bowl of cereal or guacamole.

But picking out fruit or veggies is child’s play when it comes to choosing which flowers will last through the week. Besides consulting a horticulturist, there appears to be no way to know how long it will take that vase full of red roses to fade to black.

The invisible culprit is a gas that causes fruits and vegetables to ripen and flowers to wilt too quickly.  A new technology, however, could save billions of dollars for the food and florist industries and please anyone who is fighting the ongoing ripening battle at home or in restaurant kitchens.

Scientists explain that fruits, vegetables and flowers are still alive after picking, and they produce and release ethylene gas, which helps ripening and blooming. The problem is that when the gas escapes into enclosed storage and shipping containers, it builds up and speeds up ripening. To address this issue, Nicolas Keller, Marie-Noëlle Ducamp, Didier Robert and Valérie Keller compared all ethylene control/removal techniques described in more than 300 studies.

Reporting in the American Chemical Society’s Chemical Reviews, they say that
photocatalysis offers the best opportunity to dissipate ethylene and slow ripening and blooming on Earth and during space missions. With the method, a catalyst and light act together to remove ethylene by transforming it into carbon dioxide and water.

Based on their extensive review, the team predicts that this approach could replace present ethylene removal technologies for storing and transporting fresh fruits and vegetables. The technology offers health and economic benefits worldwide by improving food quality and availability, they say.

Does this sound like an approach industry might embrace? How often do you have to throw out overripe fruit or veggies?

“Ethylene Removal and Fresh Product Storage: A Challenge at the Frontiers of Chemistry. Toward an Approach by Photocatalytic Oxidation”

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The typical human brain weighs less than 3 pounds, is pinkish-beige in color and has the consistency of gelatin. It’s a crinkly thing, with lots of folds on its surface. Not that impressive. It’s actually kind of yucky-looking, come to think of it, and it’s very fragile. Yet, this is the human command center — where all of the thoughts, emotions and memories take shape.


What’s going on in there? Well, we now know that there are about 80 billion nerve cells, or neurons, sending signals to each other in the brain, forming 100 trillion different connections. Pretty complex stuff.


But to dig deeper, scientists need new tools. That’s where the new BRAIN initiative comes in to play.


President Obama announced the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN, for short) in early April. Sometimes compared to the Human Genome Project in its scope and potential impact on medicine, BRAIN would enlist teams of scientists to develop the technology for an unprecedented new understanding of how the brain works. It could establish the basis for new treatments for clinical depression, autism, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and other brain conditions.


In a recent article in ACS Nano, three journal editors, A. Paul Alivisatos, Anne M. Andrews and Paul S. Weiss, combine with Sotiris Masmanidis, Axel Scherer, Rafael Yuste, and several prominent nanoscientists and neuroscientists to explain how advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology over the last decade are poised to develop the tools required for greater understanding of the brain at this important scale.


Since the parts of the brain work at the nanoscale, such tools are ideally suited for probing the pieces, but must ultimately be put together to better understand thought, perception, consciousness, and health and disease. “We hope that [BRAIN] will bring the last decade’s national and international investments in science, technology, and people in nanoscience and nanotechnology to bear on important and challenging problems in brain science,” the scientists and engineers say.


What do you think? Is BRAIN’s goal achievable? Can we really know how the brain works? Or do we just need the right tools? What are some challenges facing BRAIN researchers? How can they overcome them?



“Nanotools for Neuroscience and Brain Activity Mapping,” ACS Nano




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You never know what you’re going to find when you go digging. In 1974, a group of farmers digging a well stunned the world with their discovery of the now-famous Terracotta Warriors and Horses in China.


They unearthed over 8,000 soldiers and their associated chariots and horses, all made of terracotta, a type of earthenware. They also found other figures, such as terracotta musicians and acrobats.


All of these life-sized figures were made around 200 B.C. and buried underground with the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, to protect him after death.


Under all that dirt, these masterpieces were safe and protected. But now that they are exposed for all to see, they also are exposed to pollution and other environmental factors that are deteriorating them. You can’t easily move 8,000 life-sized figures to a safe locale, so researchers have studied how to preserve them where they were found.


ZhaoLin Gu and colleagues say in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology that this problem isn’t unique to the Terracotta Warriors. This is also a concern in other museums that display large artifacts in huge open spaces. To give you an idea of the type of space we’re talking about, the Qin museum covers an area of more than 17,500 square yards, almost three football fields.


The study recommends new measures to better preserve such artifacts. One, for instance, involves the use of an “air curtain” that would blow across the space to separate the figurines in the Qin Museum from the outside environment. The air curtains would keep pollutants and heat away from the inside of the pits in which the figures stand. A layer of cool air would also be used in the bottom of the pits to help form a blanket of stagnant air around the relics for protection from the environment. 


What do you think? Will this protect the figures? What other measures would you recommend?



“Primitive Environment Control for Preservation of Pit Relics in Archeology Museums of China,” Environmental Science & Technology



*Journalists can request a PDF of the journal article by emailing



Credit: American Chemical Society 


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Plants are amazing chemical factories. They take sunlight and use it and carbon dioxide to make energy for themselves. They also make oxygen, which we breathe. But they also make substances that can help heal us. Traditional Chinese medicine, for instance, makes use of herbs that are thought to have healing properties. And some drug companies use plant substances to make medicines — the breast cancer drug tamoxifen comes from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree.


Now comes word that plants could be even more useful. Researchers are reporting an advance in re-engineering photosynthesis to transform plants into solar-driven “bio-factories.” The result? The plants end up making ingredients, not only for medicines, but also for fabrics, fuels and other products, when exposed to sunlight.


Poul Erik Jensen and colleagues point out that photosynthesis does more than generate oxygen and energy. It also produces a wealth of natural chemical compounds, many of which have potential uses in medicines and other commercial products. However, evolution has cordoned off those functions into separate areas of the plant’s cells. Chloroplasts, the packets of chlorophyll that make plants green, generate the energy, sugar and oxygen. Another structure, the “endoplasmic reticulum,” produces a wide range of natural chemicals.


Their report describes how they moved an entire metabolic pathway needed to make natural bioactive chemicals to the chloroplast. “This opens the avenue for light-driven synthesis of a vast array of other natural chemicals in the chloroplast,” they say. In a nutshell, they could make cool compounds by just shining light on some cells.


What do you think? Could this have a real impact on how we make many chemicals? Do you think this could be scaled-up easily? What are some challenges that this research could face?



“Redirecting Photosynthetic Reducing Power toward Bioactive Natural Product Synthesis,” ACS Synthetic Biology



*Journalists can request a PDF of the journal article by emailing





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