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A research team led by Prof. Guido Clever from the Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at TU Dortmund University has discovered new, promising ways of using well-known coal-tar dyes to analyze biomolecules. The results were recently published in the renowned journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition. The journal selected the article as a “Hot Paper,” thus emphasizing the method’s future potential.
The family of dyes that Clever’s team works with has a long tradition along the rivers Rhine, Ruhr and Wupper. These are artificial dyes that were traditionally obtained from coal – more precisely, from coal tar. The early German chemical industry, which evolved into one of the major branches of the economy, particularly in North Rhine-Westphalia, began as early as the 19th century with the production of synthetic, coal-based dyes used for coloring textiles, paper and cosmetics, as well as in coatings and inks. In more advanced applications, these artificial dyes are used as pH indicators and photosensitizers, for example.
Dr. Irene Regeni, a young chemist in the faculty and lead author of the publication, explains that the team works with several colors, also known as chromophores, covering the entire color spectrum of the rainbow with Michler’s ketone (yellow), rhodamine B (pink), malachite green, methylene blue and crystal violet. How does this new “color theory” work in the faculty? Prof. Clever and his team use the synthetic dyes to develop three-dimensional objects that are mere nanometers in size. These objects bind to biomolecules such as DNA or proteins. This makes it easier to analyze certain properties of the molecules.
The intense color of the coal-tar dye is retained
What makes this discovery so innovative is that Guido Clever’s group managed to integrate the chromophores into self-assembled nanocages for the first time, while also retaining their most important property – their intense color. These colors make it easier than usual to measure a crucial property of biomolecules: chirality. A molecule or an object in general is considered chiral if it cannot be superimposed onto its mirror image – like our hands. Chirality is an important factor, for example, when it comes to how drugs interact with biological structures.
The chiral signatures of molecules are difficult to tell apart, particularly in complex mixtures. “This is where our probes come in,” says Dr. Irene Regeni. “They are mixed with the biomolecules, such as DNA. These biomolecules then transfer their chiral properties to the synthetic nano-objects. Because of their intense color, the properties can then be read out with light.” This is done using a device that can measure the rotation of polarized light. 3D glasses at the movies work in a similar way.
“We can now produce a whole color palette of these nanocages,” explains Prof. Clever. “We can then use that palette as a basis for developing selective analytical methods for DNA or other biological samples, for instance.” It remains to be seen whether this basic research can help revive coal-tar dyes in terms of both economics and production, and in what way. These fundamental developments are already showing promising potential for applications in the areas of sustainable synthesis methods, new materials, biodiagnostics and even DNA-sensing active ingredients.
Original publication in English (open access):
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Location & approach
The campus of TU Dortmund University is located close to interstate junction Dortmund West, where the Sauerlandlinie A 45 (Frankfurt-Dortmund) crosses the Ruhrschnellweg B 1 / A 40. The best interstate exit to take from A 45 is “Dortmund-Eichlinghofen” (closer to South Campus), and from B 1 / A 40 “Dortmund-Dorstfeld” (closer to North Campus). Signs for the university are located at both exits. Also, there is a new exit before you pass over the B 1-bridge leading into Dortmund.
To get from North Campus to South Campus by car, there is the connection via Vogelpothsweg/Baroper Straße. We recommend you leave your car on one of the parking lots at North Campus and use the H-Bahn (suspended monorail system), which conveniently connects the two campuses.
TU Dortmund University has its own train station (“Dortmund Universität”). From there, suburban trains (S-Bahn) leave for Dortmund main station (“Dortmund Hauptbahnhof”) and Düsseldorf main station via the “Düsseldorf Airport Train Station” (take S-Bahn number 1, which leaves every 20 or 30 minutes). The university is easily reached from Bochum, Essen, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Duisburg.
You can also take the bus or subway train from Dortmund city to the university: From Dortmund main station, you can take any train bound for the Station “Stadtgarten”, usually lines U41, U45, U 47 and U49. At “Stadtgarten” you switch trains and get on line U42 towards “Hombruch”. Look out for the Station “An der Palmweide”. From the bus stop just across the road, busses bound for TU Dortmund University leave every ten minutes (445, 447 and 462). Another option is to take the subway routes U41, U45, U47 and U49 from Dortmund main station to the stop “Dortmund Kampstraße”. From there, take U43 or U44 to the stop “Dortmund Wittener Straße”. Switch to bus line 447 and get off at “Dortmund Universität S”.
The AirportExpress is a fast and convenient means of transport from Dortmund Airport (DTM) to Dortmund Central Station, taking you there in little more than 20 minutes. From Dortmund Central Station, you can continue to the university campus by interurban railway (S-Bahn). A larger range of international flight connections is offered at Düsseldorf Airport (DUS), which is about 60 kilometres away and can be directly reached by S-Bahn from the university station.
The H-Bahn is one of the hallmarks of TU Dortmund University. There are two stations on North Campus. One (“Dortmund Universität S”) is directly located at the suburban train stop, which connects the university directly with the city of Dortmund and the rest of the Ruhr Area. Also from this station, there are connections to the “Technologiepark” and (via South Campus) Eichlinghofen. The other station is located at the dining hall at North Campus and offers a direct connection to South Campus every five minutes.
The facilities of TU Dortmund University are spread over two campuses, the larger Campus North and the smaller Campus South. Additionally, some areas of the university are located in the adjacent “Technologiepark”.