Edible food packaging made from milk proteins (video)


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American Chemical Society

At the grocery store, most foods — meats, breads, cheeses, snacks — come wrapped in plastic packaging. Not only does this create a lot of non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste, but thin plastic films are not great at preventing spoilage. And some plastics are suspected of leaching potentially harmful compounds into food. To address these issues, scientists are now developing a packaging film made of milk proteins — it is even edible. The researchers are presenting their work today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics. A brand-new video on the research is available at http://bit.ly/ACSediblepackaging.

“The protein-based films are powerful oxygen blockers that help prevent food spoilage. When used in packaging, they could prevent food waste during distribution along the food chain,” says research leader Peggy Tomasula, D.Sc.

And spoiled food is just one issue. Current food packaging is mainly petroleum-based, which is not sustainable. It also does not degrade, creating tons of plastic waste that sits in landfills for years.

To create an all-around better packaging solution, Tomasula colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are developing an environmentally friendly film made of the milk protein casein. These casein-based films are up to 500 times better than plastics at keeping oxygen away from food and, because they are derived from milk, are biodegradable, sustainable edible. Some commercially available edible packaging varieties are already on the market, but these are made of starch, which is more porous allows oxygen to seep through its microholes. The milk-based packaging, however, has smaller pores can thus create a tighter network that keeps oxygen out.

Although the researchers’ first attempt using pure casein resulted in a strong effective oxygen blocker, it was relatively hard to handle would dissolve in water too quickly. They made some improvements by incorporating citrus pectin into the blend to make the packaging even stronger, as well as more resistant to humidity high temperatures.

After a few additional improvements, this casein-based packaging looks similar to store-bought plastic wrap, but it is less stretchy is better at blocking oxygen. The material is edible made almost entirely of proteins. Nutritious additives such as vitamins, probiotics nutraceuticals could be included in the future. It does not have much taste, the researchers say, but flavorings could be added.

“The coatings applications for this product are endless,” says Laetitia Bonnaillie, Ph.D., co-leader of the study. “We are currently testing applications such as single-serve, edible food wrappers. For instance, individually wrapped cheese sticks use a large proportion of plastic — we would like to fix that.”

Because single-serve pouches would need to stay sanitary, they would have to be encased in a larger plastic or cardboard container for sale on store shelves to prevent them from getting wet or dirty.

In addition to being used as plastic pouches wraps, this casein coating could be sprayed onto food, such as cereal flakes or bars. Right now, cereals keep their crunch in milk due to a sugar coating. Instead of all that sugar, manufacturers could spray on casein-protein coatings to prevent soggy cereal. The spray also could line pizza or other food boxes to keep the grease from staining the packaging, or to serve as a lamination step for paper or cardboard food boxes or plastic pouches. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recently banned the perfluorinated substances that used to coat these containers, so casein coatings could be a safe, biodegradable alternative.

Bonnaillie says her group is currently creating prototype film samples for a small company in Texas, the development has garnered interest among other companies, too. The group plans to keep making improvements, she predicts this casein packaging will be on store shelves within 3 years.

A press conference on this topic will be held Monday, Aug. 22, at 11:15 a.m. Eastern time in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Reporters may check in at Room 307 in person, or watch live on YouTube http://bit.ly/ACSlivephiladelphia. To ask questions online, sign in with a Google account.



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Paper-based device spots falsified or degraded medications (video)


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Lieberman Bliese

The developing world is awash in substandard, degraded or falsified medications, which can either directly harm users or deprive them of needed treatment. And with internet sales of medications on the rise, people everywhere are increasingly at risk. So, a team of researchers has developed a simple, inexpensive paper-based device to screen suspicious medications. The researchers will present their work today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics. A brand-new video on the research is available at http://bit.ly/ACSfakedrugdetection.

“People who don’t have access to the best-quality medicines also don’t have as many resources to buy the analytical instrumentation to detect the quality problems,” says Marya Lieberman, Ph.D. “Instead of a $30,000 instrument, we’ve developed a $1 paper card. We designed the card so it would be as easy inexpensive to use as possible.”

Medications can be compromised in many different ways. For example, they may be bulked up with fillers, or they can degrade because they are stored improperly. Identifying poor-quality medications is challenging, as inspectors may not know in advance what chemical adulterants or degradation products they need to look for. Plus, bad-quality medications may contain at least some of the active ingredient, so simply detecting the presence of the real medication isn’t enough to rule out issues.

In this study, Lieberman of the University of Notre Dame, along with Hamline University undergraduate Sarah Bliese, developed a card to detect falsified or degraded antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin or ceftriaxone, both of which the World Health Organization lists as “essential.” To screen for a variety of potential quality issues, the researchers included 12 lanes separated by wax barriers on the paper device. Each lane contained a different set of reagents to detect materials or functional groups found in active pharmaceutical ingredients, degradation products or common fillers.

To run a sample, the researchers crush a pill rub the resulting powder across all 12 lanes, then dip the bottom of the paper card in water for three minutes. The water wicks up the lanes, bringing reagents into contact with the powder. Colors are formed when the reagents interact with the pharmaceutical, filler or degradation product. The researchers then compare the color pattern from the sample with the color patterns obtained from high-quality pharmaceutical products. The comparison can be done by eye or with an image-analysis program on a smartphone.

Ceftriaxone is sensitive to heat breaks down if storage temperatures climb too high. As an experiment, the researchers subjected ceftriaxone to high temperatures ran the card test, simultaneously analyzing the degradation products via liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. They verified that the colorimetric pattern for the degraded antibiotic was different from that of the correctly stored product. In addition to these tests on the pure active ingredient, Lieberman Bliese analyzed dozens of real-world samples of ceftriaxone from Kenya Uganda.

Unscrupulous makers of falsified medication sometimes add colorants containing toxic heavy metals to their products to make the illicit pills more closely resemble their legitimate counterparts, Bliese says. So, in a related project at Hamline University, Bliese Deanna O’Donnell, Ph.D., are exploring whether a portable X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy device can scan pills for these substances.

In June, Lieberman Bliese traveled to Kenya to test a new paper card which can detect substandard antibiotics. While Lieberman is currently focusing her work on the developing world, she says her cards could be applicable worldwide to perform, for example, the analysis of herbal medicines nutritional supplements. “Sometimes those ‘herbal products’ are actually spiked with pharmaceuticals,” she explains. “The paper test cards could be a defense against this.” Bliese says her next project will be to develop a paper test card to help first responders identify drugs of abuse differentiate them from household products or legitimate medicines.

A press conference on this topic will be held Monday, Aug. 22, at 9 a.m. Eastern time in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Reporters may check in at Room 307 in person, or watch live on YouTube http://bit.ly/ACSlivephiladelphia. To ask questions online, sign in with a Google account.



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Europe’s oldest known living inhabitant


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Photo: Dr. Oliver Konter, Mainz

A Bosnian pine (Pinus heldreichii) growing in the highlands of northern Greece has been dendrocronologically dated to be more than 1075 years old. This makes it currently the oldest known living tree in Europe. The millenium old pine was discovered by scientists from Stockholm University (Sweden), the University of Mainz (Germany) the University of Arizona (USA). “It is quite remarkable that this large, complex impressive organism has survived so long in such an inhospitable environment, in a lthat has been civilized for over 3000 years” says Swedish dendrochronologist, Paul J. Krusic, leader of the expedition that found the tree. It is one of more than a dozen individuals of millennial age, living in a treeline forest high in the Pindos mountains.

“Many years ago I read a thesis about this very interesting forest in Greece. In our research, we try to build long chronologies to construct climate histories, so finding living trees of old age is one of our motivations. To age the tree, we needed to take a core of wood, from the outside to the center. The core is one meter has 1075 annual rings” says Krusic.

The scientists hope the annual variations of the tree rings from trees like this those fallen in centuries past, yet still preserved on the ground, will provide an informative history of climatic environmental conditions, going back thousands of years. Considering where the tree was found, its venerable age, the scientists have named this individual “Adonis” after the Greek god of beauty desire.

“I am impressed, in the context of western civilization, all the human history that has surrounded this tree; all the empires, the Byzantine, the Ottoman, all the people living in this region. So many things could have led to its demise. Fortunately, this forest has been basically untouched for over a thousyears” says Krusic.

The millennium old trees were discovered during research expeditions conducted by the Navarino Environmental Observatory (NEO), a cooperation between Stockholm University, the Academy of Athens TEMES S.A. The observatory studies climate change its impact on environment humans in the Mediterranean.

For information, please contact: Paul J. Krusic, [email protected]natgeo.su.se, + 46 (0) 70 6503118 Press Office, [email protected], + 46 (0) 8 164090

Timeline:

941 – Adonis is a seedling. The Byzantine Empire is at its peak. From the North, the Vikings reach the Black Sea.

1041 – Adonis is a 100 years old. In China, a book is published describing gunpowder. A man called Macbeth is crowned King of Scotland.

1191 – Adonis is 250 years old. The universities of Oxford Paris are founded. The third crusade battles Saladin in the Holy Land.

1441 – Adonis is 500 years old. The Ottoman empire conquers Greece. Many Greek scholars flee to the west, influencing the Renaissance. In Sweden, the first parliament is held in Arboga. Johannes Gutenberg is about to test his first printing press.

1691 – Adonis is 750 years old. Isaac Newton has formulated his Laws on Motion. Ice cream, tea coffee are introduced in Europe.

1941 – Adonis is a millennium old. World War II is ravaging the world. Greece is occupied by Nazi Germany, Italy Bulgaria.



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Tool or weapon? New research throws light on stone artifacts’ use as ancient projectiles


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Judy Maguire

The archaeological site near South Africa's Cave of Hearths is where the round stones were found.

Judy Maguire

Geoffrey Bingham is pictured.

Indiana University

A team of psychologists, kinesiologists archaeologists at Indiana University elsewhere are throwing new light on a longstanding archaeological mystery: the purpose of a large number of spherical stone artifacts found at a major archaeological site in South Africa. IU Bloomington professor Geoffrey Bingham colleagues in the United Kingdom United States contend that the stones — previously thought by some to be used as tools — served instead as weapons for defense hunting.

The research, which combines knowledge about how modern humans perceive an object’s “throwing affordance” with mathematical analysis evaluation of these stones as projectiles for throwing, appears in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Our study suggests that the throwing of stones played a key role in the evolution of hunting,” said Bingham, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts Sciences’ Department of Psychological Brain Sciences an author on the study. “We don’t think that throwing is the sole, or even primary, function of these spheroids, but these results show that this function is an option that warrants reconsidering as a potential use for this long-lived, multipurpose tool.”

The use of these stones, which date from between 1.8 million 70,000 years ago, has puzzled archaeologists since they were unearthed at the Cave of Hearths in South Africa’s Makapan Valley nearly 30 years ago.

The study’s lead author, Andrew Wilson of Beckett Leeds University in England, co-author, Qin Zhu of the University of Wyoming, were both Ph.D. students in Bingham’s lab at IU. The other researchers are archaeologists Lawrence Barham Ian Stanistreet, both of the University of Liverpool in England. Stanistreet is also affiliated with the Stone Age Institute at IU.

The team’s conclusions are based upon a theoretical framework computational tools developed in the Perception/Action Lab at IU, directed by Bingham, who investigates human coordinated action perceptual capabilities. This includes judging an object’s throwing affordance, which is the selection of the best object in terms of size, weight shape for throwing at maximum distance, speed damage.

Using these methods, the researchers used computational models to analyze 55 ball-shaped stone objects from the South African site, finding that 81 percent of the stones were the optimal size, weight shape for hitting such a target at a 25-meter distance. The stones are about the size of tennis balls but much heavier.

The team also simulated the projectile motions the spheroids would undergo if thrown by an expert, as well as estimated the probability of these projectiles causing damage to a medium-sized prey such as an impala.

Research on biomechanics perception, particularly vision, shows that the human shoulder joint perceptual abilities are uniquely specialized for throwing objects aimed at a particular target at a distance of 20 to 30 meters, Bingham said. The stones, which predate thrown spears, likely served as projectile weapons for hunting defense since they were found to perform best as hunting weapons when thrown overhand, he added.

“Humans are the only animals — the only primates even — with that talent,” Bingham said. “We can throw something to hit something else — like a quarterback throwing to the running back all the way down the field. That’s how in large measure we survived the ice ages. The available food was largely on hoof, or it was ‘mega-fauna,’ such as a mammoth. You don’t want to get close to them.”

Previous research by archaeologists suggested that spherical stones were used as percussive tools for shaping or grinding other materials. Most of the objects analysed in this study had weights that produce optimal levels of damage from throwing, however, rather than simply being as heavy as possible.

“Imagine a human, searching for an object to throw so as to cause the most damage possible to potential prey or a competitor,” Wilson said. “This is a perceptual task: the person needs to perceive throwing-relevant properties of objects be able to discriminate between objects that vary in those properties.”

Bingham, along with former students other colleagues, have been studying the mechanics evolutionary role of throwing — a complex human action — for several decades at IU. Over time, they developed both theories on this capability, as well as virtual simulations to measure the mechanics of the task.

“The ability to throw great distances was not a small thing,” Bingham said. “It was how we got lunch.”



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Stanford scientists combine satellite data machine learning to map poverty


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Neal Jean et al.

One of the biggest challenges in providing relief to people living in poverty is locating them. The availability of accurate reliable information on the location of impoverished zones is surprisingly lacking for much of the world, particularly on the African continent. Aid groups other international organizations often fill in the gaps with door-to-door surveys, but these can be expensive time-consuming to conduct. In the current issue of Science, Stanford researchers propose an accurate way to identify poverty in areas previously void of valuable survey information. The researchers used machine learning – the science of designing computer algorithms that learn from data – to extract information about poverty from high-resolution satellite imagery. In this case, the researchers built on earlier machine learning methods to find impoverished areas across five African countries.

“We have a limited number of surveys conducted in scattered villages across the African continent, but otherwise we have very little local-level information on poverty,” said study coauthor Marshall Burke, an assistant professor of Earth system science at Stanford a fellow at the Center on Food Security the Environment. “At the same time, we collect all sorts of other data in these areas – like satellite imagery – constantly.”

The researchers sought to understwhether high-resolution satellite imagery – an unconventional but readily available data source – could inform estimates of where impoverished people live. The difficulty was that while standard machine learning approaches work best when they can access vast amounts of data, in this case there was little data on poverty to start with.

“There are few places in the world where we can tell the computer with certainty whether the people living there are rich or poor,” said study lead author Neal Jean, a doctoral student in computer science at Stanford’s School of Engineering. “This makes it hard to extract useful information from the huge amount of daytime satellite imagery that’s available.”

Because areas that are brighter at night are usually more developed, the solution involved combining high-resolution daytime imagery with images of the Earth at night. The researchers used the “nightlight” data to identify features in the higher-resolution daytime imagery that are correlated with economic development.

“Without being told what to look for, our machine learning algorithm learned to pick out of the imagery many things that are easily recognizable to humans – things like roads, urban areas farmland,” says Jean. The researchers then used these features from the daytime imagery to predict village-level wealth, as measured in the available survey data.

They found that this method did a surprisingly good job predicting the distribution of poverty, outperforming existing approaches. These improved poverty maps could help aid organizations policymakers distribute funds more efficiently enact evaluate policies more effectively.

“Our paper demonstrates the power of machine learning in this context,” said study co-author Stefano Ermon, assistant professor of computer science a fellow by courtesy at the Stanford Woods Institute of the Environment. “And since it’s cheap scalable – requiring only satellite images – it could be used to map poverty around the world in a very low-cost way.”



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