Jacobs Engineering, the American engineering specialist, confirmed it was in talks to acquire Babtie, the Glasgow-based consultancy which has been a fixture of the country's business scene since Victorian times.

In a statement to US investors yesterday, California-headquartered Jacobs said the proposed takeover would help it fulfil its ambition of becoming a dominant player in the global infrastructure business.

Following revelations in The Herald that Babtie was poised to surrender its independence to Jacobs, Noel Watson, chief executive of the US business, appeared keen to allay fears the takeover would be bad news for the Scottish firm's employees.

''Our view is that Babtie, coupled with a similarly scaled operation in the US, will provide the foundation to achieve our goal of global leadership, and I would expect to see the Babtie team being a key part of our leadership globally in building this business,'' he said in a statement.

Nonetheless, pending finalisation of the terms of any deal and arrangements for the management of the enlarged firm, the prospect of the takeover of Babtie by a foreign corporation is likely to concern development specialists in Scotland.

After building an international reputation in a range of cutting-edge specialisms such as environmental engineering and road building, fast-growing Babtie has provided welcome proof Scottish firms can succeed in the global knowledge economy.

Last year, the company increased pre-tax profits 51% to (pounds) 7.8m on sales of (pounds) 189m. As a result the firm, which is owned by 100-plus director-shareholders, could likely command a valuation of tens of millions of pounds.

Despite having a global workforce of 3500 people, however, Babtie is a minnow compared with Jacobs. The New-York listed corporation, which has an office in Uddingston and three in England, has 35,000 employees and revenues approaching $5bn ((pounds) 2.75bn) globally.

Babtie, which began life in 1895, was a partnership specialising in water and sewage systems for many years and only became a limited entity in 1993.

Since then, it has expanded ambitiously by acquisition into new areas, including designing thrill rides like the London Eye, and been a prominent beneficiary of the rise of public-private co-operation on infrastructure projects.

Babtie declined to comment yesterday.