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Pine sap to make ever-green plastics

A researcher at the University of South Carolina is developing new plastics using compounds found in pine trees, firs and other conifers. 

Rather than tapping a barrel of oil to obtain starting materials, Chuanbing Tang at the University of South Carolina and his colleagues instead begins with the natural resins found in trees, especially evergreens. 

The rosin and turpentine derived from their wood is rich in hydrocarbons, similar but not identical to some components of petroleum. 

Hydrocarbon-rich starting materials, whether from petroleum or tree resin, can be converted into various forms of what are commonly termed “plastics” through polymerisation. 

With petroleum derivatives, scientists have invested more than a hundred years of research into refining the polymer chemistry involved, and their success in that endeavor is evident in the range of plastics now part of common parlance, such as Plexiglas, polycarbonate and PVC. But processes for developing plastics from renewable sources, such as rosin and turpentine, are not nearly as developed. 

“Renewable polymers currently suffer from inferior performance in comparison to those derived from petroleum,” Tang said. 

Tang’s laboratory is a national leader in helping change that situation. He just received a National Science Foundation CAREER award to further develop the polymer chemistry he has been refining since he arrived as a chemistry professor in USC’s College of Arts and Sciences in 2009. The award from NSF’s Division of Materials Research will support Tang’s laboratory through 2018. 

Regular good night’s sleep key to keeping heart healthy

Not getting enough sleep can have harmful effects on your heart, an expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has said. 

The ideal amount of sleep is between six to eight hours, said cardiologist Alan S Gertler, MD, associate professor of medicine in UAB’s Division of Cardiovascular Diseases and part of UAB’s Heart and Vascular Services. 

“Deep, high-quality sleep is needed to lower heart rate and blood pressure, which reduce stress on the heart,” Gertler said.  Heart rate and blood pressure also rise and fall during rapid eye movement (REM) in response to dreams. According to the National Institutes of Health, those variable rates also contribute to making the heart healthier. 

“Without enough sleep, there is an increase in blood pressure and stress hormones, lower glucose tolerance and weight gain. All of these factors can increase the risk of coronary artery disease,” Gertler said.  Sleep deprivation, which generally results from getting less than six hours of sleep per night, “can lead to elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which may be a marker of inflammation of the endothelial lining of the arteries, which can increase the risk of atherosclerosis,” Gertler warned. Another sleep-related issue that can lead to heart problems is sleep apnea. 

“It causes not enough air to get into the lungs through the mouth and nose during sleep, decreasing the amount of oxygen in your blood. As a result, sleep is interrupted through the night, and the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, cardiac arrhythmias and stroke increase,” Gertler said. 
Photosynthesis evolved soon after life appeared on earth

Scientists studying the world’s oldest sedimentary rocks have claimed that about 3.8 billion years ago - not long after life appeared on Earth - an early form of photosynthesis may have evolved on the planet. In photosynthesis in plants, the water is split by the process to produce oxygen gas. But some bacteria oxidise substances such as iron – a photosynthesis which doesn’t generate oxygen, New Scientist reported. 

Evolutionary biologists believe that oxygen-generating photosynthesis were given rise to by non-oxygen-generating forms of photosynthesis, which evolved first. 

But the question when did non-oxygen-generating photosynthesis evolve, was answered by the fossilised microbial mats, which formed in shallow water 3.4 billion years ago in what is now South Africa, that show the process’ chemical fingerprints. Andrew Czaja of the University of Cincinnati in Ohio said that the world’s oldest sedimentary rocks – a class of rock which is able to preserve evidence of life –is a logical place to look. 

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