Tuesday, May 24, 2011

LANXESS to relocate to Cologne

 Specialty chemicals group LANXESS has found a new home in Cologne. The company will transfer its corporate headquarters from Leverkusen to the former Lufthansa headquarters on Deutzer Freiheit in the second half of 2013. This means that LANXESS will in the future steer its global business from Cologne. The contracts with the owner, Kennedy-Ufer-Köln GmbH & Co. KG, and the project developer, HOCHTIEF Projektentwicklung GmbH, have already been signed. LANXESS will rent the building measuring around 100 meters in height.

"We have found an ideal location for LANXESS in Cologne, and are really looking forward to moving to our new home city," said Axel C. Heitmann, Chairman of the Board of Management of LANXESS AG, at this year’s Annual Stockholders’ Meeting. Cologne, continued Heitmann, not only has an infrastructure unique in North Rhine-Westphalia with excellent transport connections, it is also a renowned academic and research center and, as such, an enormous attraction for top talent. “The high cost-efficiency of the new company headquarters and the benefits of Cologne as a location will assist us in our course of growth.”

More than 1,000 employees will move to their new offices in the Deutz area of Cologne in 2013. “The building is currently being completely modernized. It will then become one of the most energy-efficient buildings in Germany,” stated Heitmann. The new company headquarters will bring almost all management functions under one roof. The 22-storey office building has a leased area of around 38,000 square meters.


Special Eurobarometer report published on the consumer perception of chemicals

05-20-2011: Eurobarometer findings show that most people in the EU are unable to identify everyday household chemicals as potentially hazardous and rarely follow safety instructions. The understanding of chemical products and public awareness of how to use these safely varies considerably from one country to another.

EU citizens are generally more inclined to characterise chemical products as 'dangerous' or 'harmful to the environment' rather than 'useful' or 'innovative'. While the majority say that they have used chemical products at work, a large number of people are unable to identify everyday household chemicals as "chemical products". Many read safety instructions before using household chemicals but the attention paid to such instructions is higher only for certain types of products like pesticides and detergents. The level of understanding about chemical products differs considerably from country to country.

These findings were published today in a 'Special Eurobarometer' survey report which has assessed consumers' perception of chemical products, and judged how those perceptions differ when people are in regular contact with them. The survey also looked at people's attitudes in dealing with safety instructions and illustrated their understanding of the hazard symbols and safety language (as provided by the Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures (CLP Regulation) which entered into force on 20 January 2009).

This survey has been conducted for the first time in Europe and is part of a project conceived by ECHA to implement the requirement in the CLP Regulation on carrying out the communication study (Article 34). ECHA has joined forces with DG Joint Research Centre - Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (JRC) to prepare this special Eurobarometer Survey undertaken by TNS Opinion & Social Network for DG Communication of the European Commission.

The second and final part of the project is a piece of qualitative research to examine consumers' opinions and behaviours related to chemicals outlined in the Eurobarometer Survey results in more detail.

ECHA will submit the final report of the study to the European Commission by January 2012 and will provide recommendations on how to further improve hazard communication on chemicals aimed at the general public.

View the original article here

New technique sheds light on the mysterious process of cell division

Using a new technique in which models of primitive cells are constructed from the bottom up, scientists have demonstrated that the structure of a cell's membrane and cytoplasm may be as important to cell division as the specialized machinery -- such as enzymes, DNA or RNA -- which are found within living cells. Christine Keating, an associate professor of chemistry at Penn State University, and Meghan Andes-Koback, a graduate student in the Penn State Department of Chemistry, generated simple, non-living model "cells" with which they established that asymmetric division -- the process by which a cell splits to become two distinct daughter cells -- is possible even in the absence of complex cellular components, such as genes. The study, which will be published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, may provide important clues to how life originated from non-life and how modern cells came to exhibit complex behaviors.

Keating explained that how split into asymmetrical daughter cells with very different compositions and different "fates" is something of a mystery. Cellular differentiation -- the process by which an unspecialized cell, such as a stem cell, becomes a specialized cell -- requires that different biological components reorganize themselves into each of the resulting daughter cells. For this apparently complex task to be accomplished, some important mechanism must guide both the reorganization of cellular parts and the maintenance of polarity -- the property of a cell to exhibit distinct front and back "sides" with specific placement and distribution of . "Many genes have been implicated in the maintenance of cell polarity and the facilitation of division into nonidentical daughter cells. It's thanks to changes in the expression of these genes that a skin cell becomes a skin cell and a heart cell becomes a heart cell," Keating said. "But our research took a different approach. We asked: In addition to the that guide asymmetrical cell division and polarity maintenance, what structural, biophysical factors might be at work, and how might these factors have predated the evolution of the complex genetic systems known to exist in modern cells?"

The team began with the hypothesis that because new arise by division of existing mother cells, certain inherited material -- such as the cell membrane -- could serve as a sort of informational "landmark." This landmark could set in motion and guide a cascade of chemical events related to ordered cell division and polarity maintenance. To test this hypothesis, Keating and Andes-Koback built model cells from the bottom up, allowing water, lipids, and polymers to assemble into mimics of the most basic constituents of real, living cells -- such as a membrane and . They then altered the osmotic pressure outside of the "cells" by adding sugar, which forced them to divide in a way that is reminiscent of how living, biological cells split under natural conditions.

A new technique that constructs models of primitive cells has demonstrated that the structure of a cell's membrane and cytoplasm may be as important to cell division as a cell's enzymes, DNA, or RNA. The study, which will be published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, may provide important clues to how life originated from non-life and how modern cells came to exhibit complex behaviors. This image shows the second-generation division in the model-cell. The initial division was followed by budding of one of the daughter cells. The small bud contains a newly-formed dextran-rich aqueous phase coated by the red membrane domain, while the larger body of the model cell contains the PEG-rich aqueous phase coated by the green membrane domain. Credit: Christine Keating lab, Penn State University

"We observed that even model cells can divide in a structured way, which implies a kind of intrinsic order," Andes-Koback said. She explained that, like a biological cell, the model mother cell was designed to exhibit asymmetry in both its membrane and its cellular interior. The membrane asymmetry was modeled using two distinct lipid domains, while the cellular interior was modeled using two distinct polymers called polyethylene glycol (PEG) and dextran. These polymers form distinct domains, or compartments, on the inside of the model cells, with the dextran-rich compartment containing a higher concentration of a particular protein. The team observed that when the asymmetric mother cell divided, one daughter inherited one lipid domain surrounding the PEG-rich interior, and the other daughter inherited the other membrane domain surrounding the dextran-rich interior, which contained the larger portion of the protein. "Most importantly, we also found that when we varied the relative size of the two lipid domains, one daughter cell got both types of membrane and the other daughter got only one type," Andes-Koback said. "This was possible since the interior aqueous phases controlled the fission plane, and it is important because it provides a way to achieve a patch of distinct membrane to serve as a landmark for polarity in subsequent 'generations.'"

The team members note that the new modeling technique seems to suggests that simple chemical and physical interactions within cells -- such as self-assembly, phase separation, and partitioning -- can result in seemingly complex behaviors – like asymmetric division -- even when no additional cellular machinery is present. "Since there were no nucleic acids nor enzymes present, we clearly didn't have genes governing how our model cells would behave," Keating said. "So our study supports the hypothesis that structural and organizational 'cues' work in concert with genetic signals to achieve and maintain polarity through successive cell-division cycles."

Keating added that a working model of cellular dynamics requires a good understanding, not just of the role of genes, but also of the role of the structural organization of cells. "Once we have a firm grasp of what guides a cell's behavior, we might one day be able to design better disease treatments based on targeting errors in intracellular organization," she said.

Keating also explained that experimentation on non-living model that contain no DNA could help point to clues explaining the mysterious process of abiogenesis -- the formation of life from non-living matter, an event that happened at least once during our Earth's history. "Scientists have simulated early-Earth conditions in laboratories and have demonstrated that many amino acids -- the biochemical constituents of proteins -- can form through natural chemical reactions," Keating said. "We hope our research helps to fill in another part of the puzzle: how chemical and spatial organization may have contributed to the success of early life forms."

Provided by Pennsylvania State University (news : web)

Liquid crystal droplets discovered to be exquisitely sensitive to an important bacterial lipid

In the computer displays of medical equipment in hospitals and clinics, liquid crystal technologies have already found a major role. But a discovery reported from the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that micrometer-sized droplets of liquid crystal, which have been found to change their ordering and optical appearance in response to the presence of very low concentrations of a particular bacterial lipid, might find new uses in a range of biological contexts.

Detecting endotoxin, a lipid-polysaccharide combination that is found in the outer membranes of many types of bacteria, is a standard way to establish the presence of in a wide range of drugs, medical supplies and equipment. The current technology is based on a complex mixture of proteins isolated from the blood of a , says Nicholas Abbott, a professor and the chair of chemical and at UW-Madison.

Abbott, an expert in surfaces of soft materials, knows that liquid crystals have highly useful properties. "An unusual characteristic of a liquid crystal is that information travels through it over long distances. Many past studies have shown that events at a surface of a liquid crystal, which might affect just one layer of molecules, can trigger a change in the ordering of the liquid crystal that propagates as deep as 100,000 molecules away from the interface."

In a paper published Friday, May 20, in Science, Abbott and colleagues showed that concentrations of endotoxin in the picogram/milliliter range were enough to trigger a change in the appearance of liquid crystalline droplets visible in a . "When we investigated the behavior of endotoxin with the liquid crystalline droplets, we were surprised to find that we could decrease the concentration of endotoxin to extremely low levels and still see that change in the ordering of the liquid crystals."

Abbott initially thought that the changes in the liquid crystalline droplets would be due to the adsorption of the endotoxin to the surfaces of the droplets, but the concentration was too low to justify this explanation. So Abbott and his graduate students I-Hsin Lin and Dan Miller along with colleagues in the NSF-sponsored UW-Madison Materials Research Science and Engineering Center determined that "the transition was not driven by adsorption of endotoxin over the surface of the liquid crystalline droplet, but instead by localization of the endotoxin at defects in the liquid crystal droplets."

The localization of impurities to defects is "ubiquitous" in material science, Abbott says, "and it appears that a similar phenomenon is occurring here, which then triggers the transition in the droplet. This is a fundamentally different mechanism that gives rise to a level of sensitivity which is 10,000 to 100,000 higher than surface-driven transitions seen in past studies of liquid crystalline systems, and it suggests the basis for a very high level of sensitivity in detection." Abbott also comments that "defect-driven ordering transitions in liquid crystalline systems have not been reported previously, and it is also highly surprising that it is so specific to the particular structure of endotoxin."

The defect-driven phenomenon that Abbott found could be more broadly applicable than endotoxin, but he says "endotoxin in itself is pretty important. Endotoxin comes from the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria, and is considered a key indication of bacterial infection." Animal immune systems themselves are tuned to respond to endotoxin, Abbott says, and the Food and Drug Administration requires testing for endotoxin on equipment used to make vaccines, drugs, intravenous fluids and many other devices and materials.

The current FDA-approved test for endotoxin is based on the blood of horseshoe crabs, which have evolved to combat infection by clotting their blood in the presence of endotoxin. Horseshoe crabs are captured, bled and then returned to the water. The horseshoe crab test is the "gold standard assay" for endotoxin, Abbott says, "but our system so far seems a bit more sensitive and does not involve any biological components. The change in optical appearance of the droplets is quite striking, and it occurs within a minute."

The discovery could be the start of a long road to commercialization, but Abbott cautions, "We have found a fundamental phenomenon, but it's a long path to have a validated technology that can replace the horseshoe crab assay."

Horseshoe crabs are some of the most primitive multicellular organisms surviving on Earth, but Abbott believes they would still appreciate not having to donate blood quite so often.

Provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison (news : web)