Essential oils have boomed in popularity as alternatives for synthetic cleaning products, anti-mosquito sprays and even medicines.

Why not use them to preserve food in a way that will appeal to the natural medicine crowd? 

Essential oils have been used therapeutically for centuries, mostly for mood altering and also for preservation. Today, they are being studied by tobacco companies, the cosmetics industry and, of course, food chemists. A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reports the development of new edible films containing oils from clove and oregano that preserve bread longer than commercial additives.

If you visit the best noodle houses in Asia, they will happily tell you their secret: The amino acid glutamate, boiled from dried seaweed or fermented soy, or gotten from a can, where it has been stabilized with salt and given the name monosodium glutamate (MSG). 

MSG is safe but some epidemiological and animal model studies have linked it to obesity and disorders associated with metabolic syndrome, including progressive liver disease. Other studies have disputed that.

Melanin — and specifically, the form called eumelanin — is the primary pigment that gives humans the coloring of their skin, hair, and eyes. It protects the body from the hazards of ultraviolet and other radiation that can damage cells and lead to skin cancer, but the exact reason why the compound is so effective at blocking such a broad spectrum of sunlight has remained something of a mystery.

A new analysis of ancient Jian wares reveals that the distinctive pottery contains an unexpected and highly unusual form of iron oxide - a rare compound called epsilon-phase iron oxide which was only recently discovered and characterized by scientists and so far has been extremely difficult to create with modern techniques.

Understanding 1,000 year old synthesis conditions used by Chinese potters could lead to an easier, more reliable synthesis of epsilon-phase iron oxide, enabling better, cheaper magnetic materials - including those used for data storage.

Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have found that certain enzymes responsible for desaturating fatty acids, the building blocks of oils, can link up to efficiently pass intermediate products from one enzyme to another.

Getting plants to accumulate high levels of more healthful polyunsaturated fatty acids, or unusual fatty acids that could be used as raw materials in place of petroleum-derived chemicals in industrial processes, are a few possible outcomes.

Metabolic channeling

University of Illinois researchers have developed materials that not only heal, but regenerate - and not just tiny microscopic cracks, large cracks and holes. All by regrowing material.

The regenerating capabilities build on the team's previous work in developing vascular materials. Using specially formulated fibers that disintegrate, the researchers can create materials with networks of capillaries inspired by biological circulatory systems.

Such self-repair capabilities would be a boon not only for commercial
goods – imagine a mangled car bumper that repairs itself within minutes of an accident – but also for parts and products that are difficult to replace or repair, such as those used in aerospace applications.

If wine leaves a bitter, cotton-like coating on the tongue, don't blame your nose or even your sense of smell, say the authors of a paper in
Chemical Senses.

Instead, blame your nerves. The traditional oak barrel character, also called barrique character, is perceived via the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for, among other things, pain and temperature perception. 

The periodic table of the elements is about to get crowded on the heavy side.

Evidence for the artificial creation of element 117 was recentlyobtained at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, an accelerator laboratory located in Darm-stadt, Germany.

You won't see these in a Whole Foods any time soon, but science has a way to improve the microbiological safety of meat; antimicrobial agents incorporated into edible films. As a bonus, they seal in flavor, freshness and color, according to researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Using films made of pullulan -- an edible, mostly tasteless, transparent polymer produced by the fungus Aureobasidium pulluns -- researchers evaluated the effectiveness of films containing essential oils derived from rosemary, oregano and nanoparticles against foodborne pathogens associated with meat and poultry.

Water testing can  be a cumbersome process, with labs and delays and waiting. 

Chemical engineers from McMaster University have reduced the sophisticated chemistry required for testing water safety to a simple pill, by adapting technology found in...a breath strip. 

Want to know if a well is contaminated? Drop a pill in a vial of water and shake it. If the color changes, there's the answer. The development has the potential to dramatically boost access to quick and affordable testing around the world.

The idea occurred to team member Sana Jahanshahi-Anbuhi, a PhD student in Chemical Engineering who came across the breath strips while shopping and realized the same material used in the dissolving strips could have broader applications.