No one can accuse the members of the American Chemical Society, who are currently holding their 242nd National Meeting and Exposition here in Denver, of being limited in their scope.
In the past few days, the collection of scientists and engineers that have gathered here in the Mile High City has discussed not only new technology that may provide evidence of life on Mars but the benefits of eating potatoes that have been microwaved rather than fried.
The conference, which concludes today, was attended by an estimated 10,000 professional and student chemists and chemical engineers and featured more than 7,300 papers, some delivered to the conference via Skype due to some presenters who reside on the East Coast hindered from attending by Hurricane Irene.
On Tuesday of this week, attendees discussed the ever-intriguing possibility of finding life on Mars, a prospect that has become more possible thank to new equipment that is 1,000 times more sensitive at detecting life than previous detection equipment.
“If life is out there, the high-tech tools of chemistry will find it sooner or later,” said Jeffrey Bada, Ph.D., a co-organizer of two-day symposium on Mars held at the Denver conference. “It certainly is starting to look like there may be something alive out there somewhere, with Mars being the most accessible place to search.”
More than 24 presentations on the possibility of current or past life on Mars were conducted during the symposium at the Colorado Convention Center, many of them spurred by the advent of the new technology.
“One reason that the questions linger is that they haven’t had the right instruments,” said Bada. “We have the instruments now or are in the process of developing and refining them. The challenge is getting them onboard future spacecraft, knowing what kinds of compounds to look for and knowing exactly where to look.”
While Bada advocates postponing any plans for future manned missions to Mars until research can determine a hospital landing location, he does support unmanned missions including the new Mars Science Laboratory rover (nicknamed “Curiosity”) slated for November. The rover will be equipped with 10 science instruments that are designed to determine the suitability of life on the planet.
However, Bada added that he was worried that recent NASA budget cuts may put even unmanned missions at risk.
On Wednesday at the ACS conference, the discussion turned to more down-to-earth matters as scientists unveiled research that found that the potato’s reputation as primarily a fatty food to be avoided by dieters might need to be revamped.
According to research unveiled at the conference, scientists found that a couple of serving of potatoes a day was found to reduce blood pressure without causing weight gain. But there are conditions to reaping these benefits.
The potatoes that provided this benefit were cooked without oil in a microwave oven and cooked and/or served without catsup, mayonnaise, butter, malt vinegar or other condiments. Frying the potatoes at high temperatures, they stated, destroyed the health benefits of potatoes and left mostly starch and fat. Microwaving appeared to be the best way to preserve the nutrients.
In addition, scientists conducted the test with purple potatoes only, which they said were particularly rich in healthful phytochemicals and vitamins. But they added that red-skin potatoes and white potatoes may produce similar results.
“The potato, more than perhaps any other vegetable, has an undeserved bad reputation that has led many health-conscious people to ban them from their diet,” said head researcher Joe Vinson, Ph.D.. “Mention ‘potato’ and people think ‘fattening, high-carbs, empty calories’. In reality, when prepared without frying and served without butter, margarine or sour cream, one potato has only 110 calories and dozens of healthful phytochemicals and vitamins. We hope our research helps to remake the potato’s popular nutritional image.”
The study tested 18 patients, most of them overweight/obese with high blood pressure. The subjects at six to eight golf ball-sized purple potatoes with skins on twice a day for a month. The patients’ diastolic blood pressure drop by an average of 4.3 percent while their systolic pressure decreased by an average of 3.5 percent. None of the study subjects, the scientists added, gained weight during the test.