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The Sweet Side Of Chemistry

It's National Chemistry Week‬! This year's theme is the sweeter side of chemistry. Watch the National Science Foundation's salute to sugar molecules and the NSF-funded scientists researching them.

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Glucose

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The simplest sugar, glucose is found in plants and absorbed into bloodstreams during digestion. People who have diabetes, or doctors with seriously injured patients, need technology that provides accurate blood glucose data. Gymama Slaughter, an NSF-funded engineer at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, created a wireless, implantable sensor to monitor blood sugar levels. The sensor has a simple power source: energy from the glucose itself.

Fructose

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You may know fructose from its corn-based origin as high-fructose corn syrup, but it is also found in tree fruits, honey and berries. NSF-funded scientists are researching plant sugars as a potential fuel source, and finding new ways of getting bigger, cheaper bio-based yields. Xianghong Qian, a chemical engineer at the University of Arkansas, uses dynamic simulations to study the fundamental ways these molecules interact to improve the process.

Sucrose

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Sucrose is table sugar, that ubiquitous crystal that sweetens our coffee and apple pies, and the villain that causes tooth decay and other health troubles.

University of North Texas Biologist Brian Ayre has studied the way sucrose produced in plant leaves -- via photosynthesis -- moves to and affects plant tissues. Understanding this process better could have meaningful implications on plant cultivation.

Lactose

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Lactose is one of two sugars in milk (the other is galactose). If you are lactose-intolerant, your body does not produce enough lactase, the enzyme that allows our body to metabolize lactose. Certain areas of the world -- such as parts of Africa -- have higher reported incidences of lactose intolerance. Sarah Tishkoff at the University of Pennsylvania is exploring this phenomenon by studying the gut microbiome and its impact on nutrition, including its contribution to obesity and auto-immune diseases.

Steviol

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Responsible for the sweet-tasting leaves of the Stevia plant, steviol glycosides have become popular as a no-cal alternative to sugar. Purdue University's R. Graham Cooks applied his mass spectrometer to studying stevia leaves (among other things). One experiment rapidly detected the glycosides in stevia leaves; this is a powerful method for rapid screening of plant materials for other interesting or useful chemicals.

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