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July 2001
Vol. 10, No. 07, pp 10, 12.
 
 
 
Update
Business

May Chemical Employment Falls. U.S. chemical employment declined by 6000 in May to a seasonally adjusted 1,030,000 employees, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor. Year-to-year, May was down by 8000 employees. The government, however, has revised its data; a much better employment picture resulted than was shown previously. For instance, April numbers originally indicated a 17,000 decline. Using the new data, that decline was just 3000 employees. The number of weekly hours put in by production workers fell to an average of 41.9 from 42.6 in April and from 42.5 in May of last year. And the Labor Department’s index of aggregate weekly hours of production—a product of the number of workers and the hours they work—declined to 96.9 (1982 = 100) from 98.7 in April and from 100.7 in May 2000. (C&EN, June 11, 2001, p 10)

Exports, Surplus Jump in March. A rise in the value of chemical exports in March caused a surge in the trade surplus for the industry, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. March exports rose 13.0% from the previous month to $7.59 billion. Year-to-year, March exports were up 7.2%. March chemical imports rose 7.6% to $6.93 billion from February and were up 4.3% from March 2000. The export increase sparked a 137% jump in the trade surplus from February to $667 million and a 50.3% rise from March of last year. For the first quarter of this year, chemical exports rose 11.7% to $20.9 billion from the comparable 2000 period, while imports rose 19.0% to $20.3 billion. The surplus however, fell 66.2% to $547 million. (C&EN, May 28, 2001, p 14)

Celera To Enter the Drug Development Business. Celera Genomics (Rockville, MD) plans to acquire Axys Pharmaceuticals (South San Francisco, CA) for roughly $175 million in stock. The deal represents a long-anticipated move by Celera to expand its business from genomics and gene sequencing into drug development. Axys had sales of $7 million in 2000 but reported a net loss of $45 million. (C&EN, June 18, 2001, p 13)

DuPont Exiting Pharmaceutical Arena. DuPont (Wilmington, DE) will sell its pharmaceuticals business to Bristol-Myers Squibb (New York) for $7.8 billion in cash. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter, pending regulatory approvals. Bristol-Myers’ move to expand its $18 billion-per-year business has been expected since it announced that it would sell its Clairol unit to Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati, OH) for nearly $5 billion. Acquisition of DuPont’s $1.5 billion-per-year business will secure Bristol-Myers the number-five position in global pharmaceutical sales. DuPont will use the infusion of cash to complete a $2.5 billion share buyback program begun in July 2000 and will launch another $2 billion buyback program after that. It hopes to invest in growth opportunities, while buying back shares will boost its earnings per share and may help its beleaguered stock. (C&EN, June 11, 2001, p 8)

Government

Microarray Standards Adopted. The microarray community formally adopted its first set of standards at the third annual Microarray Gene Expression Database (MGED) meeting at Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA) in late March. Version 1.0 of the “minimal information about a microarray experiment” (MIAME) standard was finalized and adopted. The final document, which is to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, will specify “the mandatory minimum information (experimental design, array design, samples, [hybridizations], measurements, and controls) about a microarray (or any DNA array) based gene expression experiment to [ensure] the interpretability, as well as potential verification, of the results.” Now that the MIAME standard is in hand, MGED and the bioinformatics companies Rosetta Inpharmatics and Netgenics hope to submit a microarray standards proposal to the Object Management Group, a broader standards organization, during the summer of 2001. The full implication of this arrangement is not clear yet, but the change is expected to make MGED a more formal organization with bylaws. (Anal. Chem., June 1, 2001, p 309A)

NIST Develops Standard for MS of Polymers. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is working to develop a new international standard method for determining the molecular mass distribution of synthetic polymers using mass spectrometry. A standard method for polymers is important because the distribution of molecular chain lengths in a polymer affects the processing of materials and the properties of the final product. NIST researchers, working within the international Versailles Project on Advanced Materials and Standards, are using time-of-flight matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization MS, which ablates the sample surface, producing charged polymers in the vapor state and allowing direct measurement of the mass distribution. NIST is chairing this work, which includes laboratories in Japan, Germany, Italy, and Canada. (C&EN, June 11, 2001, p 18)

EPA Sued over Waste Rule. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) is taking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to court over a hazardous waste rule. The rule exempts from regulation certain wastes that are mixtures and derivatives of hazardous waste. The ACC’s view is that the rule barely makes any change to the current system. The rule was initially issued in 1980, but a federal court vacated the rule in 1991. EPA has been under pressure from Congress and the industry to reissue the rule. (C&EN, June 18, 2001, p 26)

SciTech

Viral Proteins Inhibit Cell Wall Synthesis in Bacteria. Most bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria, break out of their host by destroying the bacterium’s cell wall. But some simple phages don’t make the necessary enzymes and thus employ other strategies to burst out of the bacterium to invade other cells. Researchers at Texas A&M University (College Station) are finding that such phages block the synthesis of peptidoglycan, a cross-linked polysaccharide derivative that makes up the cell wall. Recently, they showed that the phage phiX174 employs a protein that inhibits an enzyme that normally would tack a lipid onto an intermediate sugar-pentapeptide. And they have preliminary evidence that another phage blocks yet a different step in the synthetic pathway. The researchers suggest that these viral proteins could form the basis of a new class of gene-encoded antibiotics. (C&EN, June 25, 2001, p 33)

Vitamin C’s Other Side. Vitamin C is a known antioxidant that can protect DNA and proteins by scavenging free radicals. However, the vitamin has also demonstrated pro-oxidant activity in the presence of transition-metal ions. Researchers at the Center for Cancer Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) have shown in vitro that, even without the presence of transition-metal ions, vitamin C can induce the decomposition of lipid hydroperoxides to ,-unsaturated aldehydes, genotoxins that can react with DNA bases to form adducts. The researchers suggest that these findings might explain why vitamin C has not worked in cancer-prevention clinical trials. (C&EN, June 18, 2001, p 32)

Quantifying Chirality. The role of chirality is probably one of the most difficult factors to determine in biomolecular interactions with drugs or other ligands. Isiah Warner and his colleagues at Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge) and Southern Illinois University (Carbondale) have introduced a clever method for measuring the contribution of chirality to a binding interaction. The technique, which is based on fluorescence anisotropy, could have broad applications in such areas as drug development, enzyme–inhibitor studies, and studies of chiral stationary phases. Among the many factors that affect fluorescence anisotropy is the rotational motion of the fluorescing molecule. Thus, if a fluorescing molecule binds to another molecule, the now-larger complex will presumably have a slower rotational correlation time and a higher anisotropy value. This characteristic is great for studying binding interactions in general. However, Warner and his colleagues realized that if the target molecule has chiral centers, then enantiomeric ligands should have slightly different binding interactions, which will be reflected in their anisotropy values. Moreover, all the other nonenantioselective factors that affect anisotropy should be the same for enantiomers, and therefore, the measured values will reflect just the difference due to chirality. (Anal. Chem. June 1, 2001, p 302A)

Honors

ACS Launches JobSpectrum.org. JobSpectrum.org is an employment site on the Web designed for the chemistry world. It aims to be comprehensive, and, as with other recruitment sites, it will be open to the public. The new service is a joint effort between the American Chemical Society’s Publications and Membership Divisions and is designed to complement the current ACS suite of career services and the Chemical & Engineering News classified ads. Résumés and open positions can be posted at www.jobspectrum.org. Services are free to job seekers. Job seekers will be able to search and apply for jobs online, and employers will be able to search the résumé database and receive online applications. In addition, job seekers and employers will be able to create personal search agents that notify them by e-mail when a résumé or job meeting their criteria is posted. (C&EN, June 4, 2001, p 13)

Affordable, Used Equipment. Labjunk.com offers used laboratory equipment and provides reconditioned or discontinued products. All products are inspected by certified technicians to ensure that the products meet industry quality standards. The URL is www.labjunk.com. (C&EN, June 18, 2001, p 41)

Pictorial Periodic Table. A visit to http://chemlab.pc.maricopa.edu/periodic/periodic.html reveals a treasure for students of chemistry—the Pictorial Periodic Table. Elements are searchable by a number of parameters, including atomic weight and number, boiling and melting points, and atomic radius. Other features include graphs and tables of elemental properties and alternative styles of the periodic table. (C&EN, June 18, 2001, p 41)

Honors

Structural Biologist Recognized for Transcription Work. Roger D. Kornberg, professor of structural biology at Stanford University School of Medicine, will receive the 2001 Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry this October in recognition of his contributions to the understanding of DNA transcription. The $300,000 award, given annually by the Welch Foundation of Houston since 1972, honors lifetime achievements in basic chemical research. Kornberg was the first to describe the nucleosome—the basic unit of the chromosome—and to establish its role in transcribing the chromosome’s DNA into an RNA copy used to direct the synthesis of new protein. In addition, he discovered the 20-protein mediator complex that regulates transcription. Most recently, he determined the structure of RNA polymerase II, the enzyme that unwinds DNA and makes the RNA transcript. (C&EN, May 28, 2001, p 16)

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