Analytical chemists earn national recognition for metals research

April 06, 2000

University of Cincinnati chemists traveled from New Orleans to San Francisco this month to present results on a vareity of research projects ranging from sensors to detect pathogenic microbes to an analysis of a common dietary supplement.

Joseph Caruso, professor of chemistry and dean of UC's College of Arts and Sciences, went to New Oleans with several graduate students for the PittCon meeting, one of the most important gatherings for analytical chemists each year. Caruso provided an overview of the field while his graduate students presented details on two specific studies.

Graduate student Claudia Ponce de Leon reported that an analysis of selenium food supplements showed wide variation among tablets, even within the same bottle.

"We haven't found anything to indicate they're unsafe, but it does appear there is variability in these nutritional supplements," said recent doctoral graduate Kathy Ackley who contributed to the study.

Those supplements typically are prepared by growing yeast enriched in selenium. Ponce de Leon is now working with UC biologist Charlotte Paquin to identify how selenium is used by the yeast and what conditions might produce the most consistent and reliable yields.

A second study, reported by graduate student Judith Brisbin, looked at the use of microwave energy to reduce the time needed to prepare biological samples for further analysis. Traditional methods can take hours, but UC chemists found that a special laboratory microwave oven can reduce the sample preparation time to mere minutes.

"It really speeds up the process. There's a drastic time reduction in sample preparation," said Ackley.

Professor Caruso noted that his lab isn't the first to use microwave sample preparation, but they have extended the technique to several biological systems, including seafood and sea plants.

"Seafood and sea plants tend to accumulate arsenic," said Caruso. "We're interested in the way in which they accumulate it. The result is they detoxify it."

The techniques developed in Caruso's lab could be used in a variety of fields from environmental health to bioremediation.

"A lot of people are looking at metals and toxicity, but they tend to follow the organism, and don't follow the metal. It changes. The difficulty is that it occurs at such low levels. We're hoping techniques we develop to follow the metals will help us to understand."
Special note: The American Chemical Society selected UC chemist Joseph Caruso as the winner of the Division of Analytical Chemistry Award in Spectrochemical Analysis for the year 2000.

Caruso, who also serves as dean of UC's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, was honored for "incredible productivity" and a "distinquished career" which helped bring new methods into practical use on important environmental and biological problems.

His specialty is known as ICP-MS (inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry) which helps to identify ultra-trace amounts of potentially toxic metals and the precise form in which they occur.

University of Cincinnati

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