Saturday, May 28, 2011

Following a Strong First Quarter, Wacker Expects Further Growth

Following a strong first quarter, Wacker Chemie AG expects further sales and earnings gains for full-year 2011. Rudolf Staudigl, CEO of the Munich-based chemical company, underscored this point at Wacker’s 2011 Annual Shareholders’ Meeting. “Wacker is poised for further growth,” he said. Staudigl reaffirmed the full-year forecast and said that sales should cross the €5-billion mark, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) should exceed 2010’s €1.19 billion level.

Of 2010’s Group net income of €497.0 million (2009: €-74.5 million), Wacker is paying out a total of €159.0 million (2009: €59.6 million) to its shareholders. The dividend per dividend-entitled share is €3.20 (2009: €1.20). The Executive and Supervisory Boards’ other proposals were also adopted by large majorities.

Following a very good fiscal 2010, Wacker further increased both sales and earnings in Q1 2011. Sales at the Munich-based chemicals Group climbed 21 percent to €1.29 billion from January through March 2011 (Q1 2010: €1.07 billion) – primarily due to higher sales volumes. A positive market environment and strong customer demand fueled Wacker’s continued business growth. The sales gain was additionally supported by higher prices in some key product segments. EBITDA achieved even stronger growth, climbing to €351.0 million in Q1 2011 (Q1 2010: €253.7 million), up 38 percent.

“After a short lull, Wacker has resumed its growth trajectory,” said CEO Rudolf Staudigl, addressing the company’s shareholders in Munich on Wednesday. “The broad economic recovery, spanning every industry, contributed substantially to our strong performance last year. Other factors were just as important, though. When demand slumped in 2009, we neither questioned our strategic course, nor did we abandon our sound core financial policies,” the CEO underscored. According to Staudigl, the Group will continue its efforts this year to enhance cost structures, processes and competitiveness. He added that Wacker was optimistic about the future in light of steady strong customer demand.


Chemical engineers invent portable hydrogen reactor for fuel cells

Chemical Engineering students at Stevens Institute of Technology are transforming the way that American soldiers power their battery-operated devices by making a small change: a really small change. Capitalizing on the unique properties of microscale systems, the students have invented a microreactor that converts everyday fossil fuels like propane and butane into pure hydrogen for fuel cell batteries. These batteries are not only highly efficient, but also can be replenished with hydrogen again and again for years of resilient performance in the field.

With batteries consuming a substantial amount of a soldier's gear weight, the Army has a high interest in replacing the current paradigm of single-use batteries with a reliable, reusable power source. The Stevens-made microreactors thus have the potential to not only reduce waste from disposable batteries, but also provide American soldiers with a dependable way to recharge the batteries for the critical devices that keep them safe.

Current methods for generating fuel cell hydrogen are both sophisticated and risky, requiring and a vacuum to produce the necessary chemical-reaction-causing plasmas. Once in a container, hydrogen is a highly volatile substance that is dangerous and expensive to transport.

The Stevens overcomes both of these barriers by using low temperatures and , and by only as needed to avoid creating explosive targets in combat areas. These advanced reactors are created using cutting-edge microfabrication techniques, similar to those used to create plasma television screens, which use microscale physics to produce plasma under normal atmospheres.

The team has already had success producing hydrogen from methanol. After gasifying methanol by suspending it in hot , the mixture is drawn into a 25┬Ám channel in the microreactor. There, it reacts with plasma to cause thermal decomposition, breaking down the methanol into its elemental components. Now the team is conducting tests to see what kind of yields are realizable from various starter fuels. Eventually, soldiers will be able to convert everyday liquid fuels like propane or butane, commonly found on military bases, into high-potency juice for portable fuel cell batteries.

Provided by Stevens Institute of Technology

Led by advances in chemical synthesis, scientists find natural product shows pain-killing properties

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have for the first time accomplished a laboratory synthesis of a rare natural product isolated from the bark of a plant widely employed in traditional medicine. This advance may provide the scientific foundation to develop an effective alternative to commonly prescribed narcotic pain treatments.

The study, published May 23, 2011, in an advanced online edition of the journal Nature Chemistry, defines a chemical means to access meaningful quantities of the rare natural product conolidine. Based on data from mouse models, the study also suggests that synthetic conolidine is a potent analgesic as effective as morphine in alleviating inflammatory and acute pain, with few, if any, side effects.

In recent years, there has been significant interest in developing alternatives to opiate-based pain medications such as morphine. While widely prescribed for pain, morphine has a number of adverse side effects that range from the unpleasant to the lethal, including , chronic constipation, addiction, and breathing depression.

The rare natural product central to the study is derived from the bark of a widely grown tropical flowering plant Tabernaemontana divaricata (also known as crepe jasmine). Long part of traditional medicine in China, Thailand, and India, extract from the leaves has been used as an anti-inflammatory applied to wounds, while the root has been chewed to fight the pain of toothache. Other parts of the plant have been used to treat and cancer.

Conolidine belongs to a larger class of natural products, called C5-nor stemmadenines, members of which have been described as opioid , despite a substantial discrepancy between potent in vivo analgesic properties and low to opiate receptors. Conolidine is an exceptionally rare member of this family for which no therapeutically relevant properties had ever been described. Despite the potential value of conolidine and related C5-nor stemmadenines as leads for therapeutics, efficient methods to prepare these molecules were lacking.

"This was a classic problem in ," said Glenn Micalizio, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, who initiated and directed the study, "which we were able to solve effectively and efficiently¬¬—an achievement that made subsequent assessment of the potential therapeutic properties of this rare natural product possible."

Micalizio and his colleagues began working on the synthesis of the molecule after they arrived at Scripps Florida in 2008.

Testing For Potency

Once the synthesis was complete, research shifted to pharmacology for evaluation. The pharmacological assessment, performed in the laboratory of Scripps Florida Associate Professor Laura Bohn, showed that the new synthetic compound has surprisingly potent analgesic properties.

"Her pharmacological studies confirmed that while it's not an opiate, it's nearly as potent as morphine," Micalizio said.

In various models of pain, the new synthetic compound performed spectacularly, suppressing and inflammatory-derived pain, two key measures of efficacy. Not only that, but the new compound passed easily through the blood-brain barrier, and was present in the brain and blood at relatively high concentrations up to four hours after injection.

Bohn herself was surprised by the compound's potency and by the fact it so readily enters the brain.

"While the pain-relieving properties are encouraging, we are still challenged with elucidating the mechanism of action," she said. "After pursuing more than 50 probable cellular targets, we are still left without a primary mechanism."

So far, the compound has shown remarkably few, if any, side effects, but that is something of a double-edged sword.

"The lack of side effects makes it a very good candidate for development," Bohn said. "On the other hand, if there were side effects, they might provide additional clues as to how the compound works at the molecular level."

That remains a mystery. While the synthetic compound might be as effective as , it doesn't act at any of the receptors associated with opiates. In fact, it misses most of the major neurotransmitter receptors completely, suggesting it may be highly tuned towards relieving pain while not producing multiple . While still in the early stages of development, further characterizations of conolidine may suggest further development as a human therapeutic for the treatment of .

More information: "Synthesis of Conolidine, a Potent Non-Opioid Analgesic for Tonic and Persistent Pain," Michael A. Tarselli et al. Nature Chemistry (2011)

Provided by The Scripps Research Institute (news : web)

DNA falls apart when you pull it


Artist's impression of optical tweezers used to pull DNA. On both ends of the DNA, beads are glued that are held by a laser beam. With the laser beam, the DNA can be pulled, by which, as can be seen on the left, it falls apart.

DNA falls apart when you pull it with a tiny force: the two strands that constitute a DNA molecule disconnect. Peter Gross of VU University Amsterdam has shown this in his PhD research project. With this research, researchers can now have a better understanding of how DNA in cells is locally opened so genes can be turned ‘on’ or ‘off’.

DNA is one of the most important molecules in cells because it contains the . A consists of two strands that are wound around each other and connected together like a spiral staircase: the double helix. Whether the genetic code in a piece of DNA is actually used, partially depends on the ease with which the two DNA strands separate from each other – like a zipper. Because that is required in order to read the genetic code. When you heat DNA in a test tube to about 80 degrees Celsius, the two strands fall apart, they ‘melt’. use a different way to melt DNA: proteins pull the DNA strands apart.

To investigate this process of pulling DNA, Peter Gross used so-called optical tweezers to pull the DNA with tiny forces. Simultaneously, he used fluorescence microscopy to see closely what happens to the DNA. What he saw can be described as a game of tug of war with a frayed rope: when you pull harder, the rope frays further and further apart. When Peter Gross increased the force on the DNA, he saw that the DNA strands fall apart with tiny shocks. He could accurately analyze these shocks and saw that the pattern of shocks is determined by the genetic code of the DNA: the pattern is like a fingerprint of the DNA. He also observed that the two DNA strands spontaneously join together and form a double helix again when he reduced the force on the DNA. This research has led to a better understanding of the complex properties of , in particular the stability of the .

Provided by University of Amsterdam