June 2009



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Tasmanian wallabies have been found breaking into poppy plantations in the Australian island state, getting stoned and stumbling around forming crop circles. The Australian plantations produce about half of the world’s legally-grown opium, which is used to make morphine and other opiate-based painkillers.

‘The one interesting bit that I found recently in one of my briefs on the poppy industry was that we have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite and going around in circles,’ Lara Giddings, Tasmania’s attorney general told a parliamentary budget committee meeting.

“Then they crash, we see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high.’

Matt Wilkinson

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This week has seen the start of Wimbledon, the quintessentially British tennis tournament, where strawberries and cream are eaten by the bucket-load – and the players all have to wear white. As is typical of the weather in Britain, the clouds have rolled in and rain is hampering play on all but the newly-roofed Centre Court.

However, the clouds that hung over Savannah, Georgia, US last night were far more unpleasant. Following a leak of titanium tetrachloride from a Tronox chemical plant, the city’s HAZMAT (hazardous materials) team contained the spill while crews from the company worked to patch the leak. Fortunately, the spill happened at night when the majority of people were in bed and the wind was blowing the fumes away from the city.

The residents of the city may be surprised to find a dusting of white powder on the streets as titanium tetrachloride reacts with moisture in the air to form a variety of compounds including titanium dioxide – the white pigment used to mark the lines at Wimbledon.

PHARMACEUTICAL

GSK signs up Chroma

UK pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has signed up privately owned british biotech firm Chroma Therapeutics to identify small molecule drugs for inflammatory disorders . If all four of the programmes are successful then Chroma could stand to make more than $1 billion (£0.6 billion).

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Chroma will use its esterase-sensitive motif (ESM) technology to add amino acids to drug compounds with the aim of targeting the compounds to specific cells in the inflammatory disease process. ‘We believe Chroma’s ESM platform has tremendous potential, and look forward to working with Chroma to accelerate the discovery and development of innovative new medicines for patients,’ said Shelagh Wilson, vice president of GSK’s European centre of excellence for external drug discovery (CEEDD).

The move follows GSK’s push into the immune-inflammatory area that saw it sign seven collaborative deals at the turn of the year.

Quotient snaps up Amersham Radiolabeling Services from GE

UK-based Quotient Bioresearch has bought the radiochemical custom synthesis operations of GE Healthcare, its seventh acquisition since its formation in 2007. Amersham Radiolabeling Services (ARS) offers custom synthesis of carbon-14 and tritium labelled compounds to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, and all its operations and staff will be combined with Quotient’s existing radiochemistry and metabolism activities to form Quotient Chemistry and Metabolism.

‘This acquisition and the formation of Quotient Chemistry & Metabolism represents a major step in the building of the Group’s integrated approach to metabolism and carbon-14 enabled drug development capability. We are uniquely placed to offer our clients standalone services or a fully-integrated service offering in this area, with all the associated benefits,’ said Paul Cowan, Quotient’s chief executive.

INDUSTRY

EPA announces Green Chemistry winners

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The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the winners of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards.

Professor Krzysztof Matyjaszewski of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, won the academic award for his ‘atom transfer radical polymerisation’ process for making polymers.

Virent Energy Systems won the small business award for its water-based catalytic method of producing fuels from plant sugars, starch and cellulose.

Eastman won the greener synthetic pathways awards for its development of a solvent-free biocatalytic process for making cosmetic ingredients.

CEM Corporation won the greener reaction conditions award for its development of a fast, automated process for analysing proteins in food that uses less reagents and energy than the conventional Kjeldahl method.

Proctor & Gamble and Cook Composites won the designing greener chemicals award for their development paints that use half the solvent used by normal paints.

Arkema to cut 239 jobs in PMMA restructure

French chemical company Arkema is to cut 239 jobs in France as it reorganises its (poly)methylmetacrylate business due to increased competition and falling demand. The company will stop producing methyl methacrylate at Carling site in the Moselle region of France and invest €40 million (£34 million) to boost the site’s acrylic acid production.

BASF slashes polystyrene production

German chemical giant BASF is reducing its polystyrene production capacity by 15 per cent in Europe due to a decrease in demand for the material. The plant, located at the company’s Ludwigshafen site, which has been out of operation since April will be dismantled and personnel working at the plant will be transferred to other positions within the company.

‘We are working intensively to restructure our Styrenics business and increase its profitability. In doing so, we are investigating all options in order to strengthen the business on a sustainable basis. This also includes reducing production capacities. We nevertheless still intend to sell this business,’ said Joachim Streu, head of BASF’s Styrenics business.

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Kodachrome’s sunny days no more

Kodak has decided to retire its legendary Kodachrome film after 74 years of production. The company’s oldest film has been used to capture family memories and world-changing events like the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. To celebrate the film’s history, Kodak has created a gallery of iconic images taken using the film.

AGROCHEMICALS

DuPont and Bayer tie the crop

Bayer and DuPont have signed a broad cross-licensing agreement relating to a number of key plant biotechnology traits and technologies that will help to increase agricultural productivity.

The press release only details some of the licenses, tellingly all of them are licenses from Bayer to DuPont. And while the agreements resolve outstanding legal and patent disputes between the two companies, DuPont is still in dispute with both BASF and Monsanto.

Meanwhile, DuPont has bought two Indian cotton firms; the cotton seed business of Nandi Seeds and the cotton germplasm business from Nagarjuna Seeds.

‘Agriculture, food and nutrition is a key growth segment for DuPont in India, and these acquisitions are part of the company’s strategy to expand its presence here,’ said Balvinder Kalsi, president of DuPont India.

Matt Wilkinson

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Today is the final day of the Tetrahedron Symposium in Paris, and the menu looks just as impressive as the last two days – for starters we have Richard Schrock, which brings the total Nobel Laureate count to three (after EJ Corey and Jean-Marie Lehn on Wednesday).

Today’s second course comes from Steve Buchwald, and to finish we have Jose Barluenga and Hisashi Yamamoto – rounding off the symposium on a theme of catalysis.

Well, it’s time for the first talk, so I’ve got to dash

À bientôt,

Phillip Broadwith

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A round-up of the most interesting/eye-catching/bizarre/worrying/confusing numbers, stats, comments

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and pics from my experience of the last day or so of the Green Week conference before it all wraps up on Friday afternoon.

(more…)

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This morning was a festival of Total Synthesis at the Tetrahedron Symposium here in Paris – we saw from Dave Evans how evolution of selectivity and control the aldol reaction has revolutionised macrolide synthesis. It’s staggering to see how such complex and highly decorated molecules can be put together in an almost routine way, but they still manage to throw up interesting challenges for the synthetic chemist – as Alois Fuerstner was quick to point out. Professor Fuerster gave some beautiful examples of how synthetic strategy can be used to solve problems and make use of natural products as inspiration in he search for new pharmaceutically active compounds.

Steve Ley followed up with a particularly interesting talk – one of the day’s highlights for me. He spoke about driving the science of synthesis forwards by challenging ourselves to put molecules together in different ways – by developing new reactions to form bonds which might be considered ‘difficult’. He also showcased applications of the flow chemistry systems developed by his group, which he hopes will eventually be able to take over the more routine aspects of synthesis research, giving chemists more ‘thinking time’ to concentrate on developing new chemistry. (more…)

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Yesterday did not look like the best day to be stuck inside – the weather was gorgeous in London and if you’ve lived in the UK for a few years you know you must make the best of it! – but Parliamentary Links Day seemed worthy. The setting was great (Portcullis House, right opposite Big Ben), the list of speakers impressive and the topic – Science and global security – very timely. So was I disappointed? I don’t think so…

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The room was filled (to bursting) with Lords, MPs, Doctors and Professors – and one or two mere mortals too – who were there to celebrate the largest scientific event of its kind on the parliamentary calendar. Brief introductions from Dr Brian Iddon, Member of the Commons Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills, and Professor Dave Garner, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, got the ball rolling followed by the keynote address from Hilary Benn MP. He touched on many topics, from climate change to water shortage or the need to reconcile environmental impact with economic development, but it is perhaps his opening remark that best summarises the challenge that as a society we face: a global crisis of sustainability.

(more…)

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radioactive

Kids will play with the funniest things, in my day it was Transformers, Star Wars and football – apparently these days children in Germany have started playing with nuclear power plants!

Two six year olds were happily playing ‘nuclear reactor’ before they left the plant to go home for their tea. Unfortunately, they left the reactor in plain view and sparked a public alert which led to the police and fire services cordoning off several streets.

(more…)

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Well it’s a gorgeous sunny morning here in Brussels, and I’m just off for day three of Green Week.

The conference has been very interesting so far, if a little…well, sobering. I get the distinct impression that the global warming limit of 2°C above pre-industrial levels isn’t going to save our skins, even if we manage to change our CO2 spewing ways and actually fall below that limit. (more…)

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Well, today was a feast of chemical delights – the speakers were all excellent, but my personal favourites were Barry Trost’s talk taking in his group’s approach to bimetallic catalysis and atom economy; and Michael Krische’s ideas about intercepting the organometallic intermediates formed during hydrogenation reactions to form carbon-carbon bonds.

It’s always exhilarating to put names to the faces you read at the top of so many academic papers, especially when those faces belong to some of the greatest minds in modern chemistry.

One of the most interesting comments in today’s lectures was when Barry Trost said ‘you really don’t know what you don’t know’, meaning that it is impossible to know what new reactions or chemistry will be possible in the future, but he optimistically added ‘they surely exist – we only need to find them!’

Today’s speakers did a great job of illustrating a few avenues down which we are looking to discover those new possibilities, from George Whitesides and Jean-Marie Lehn’s thoughts on how we might better understand and harness molecular recognition processes, to new ways of thinking about control and catalysis of chemical reactions.

After all that, I think it’s time to take some bodily nourishment to complement my academic banquet, so I think I’ll go and sample some Parisien cuisine!

Phillip Broadwith

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In this week’s Chemistry in its Element podcast, science writer Brian Clegg tells us about the element that put red into colour TV and caused a dispute between England and France

 

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