Probing and Controlling 'Molecular Rattling' May Mean Better Preservatives

Feb 25, 2009
Recent NIST findings concerning mixture behavior could dramatically extend the shelf lives of vaccines and many other biological materials. Preservatives, which are generally composed of mixtures, could be both developed and applied more effectively as a result of the team’s efforts. Credit: NIST

(PhysOrg.com) -- For centuries, people have preserved fruit by mixing it with sugar, making thick jams that last for months without spoiling. Now scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have discovered* a fundamental property of mixture behavior that might help extend the life of many things including vaccines, food and library books—and save money while doing it.

In addition to jams, sugars are often used to preserve pharmaceuticals and similar biological materials. There are a number of mechanisms involved, but recently the local stiffening of the preservative was identified as a factor that can increase shelf life. Basically, stiffening the preservative decreases the ‘rattling’ of the fluid’s molecules and stabilizes the product, presumably because these rattling motions are intimately involved in spoiling—for instance, in the protein degradation processes that lead to the loss of biological function. Several years ago, the NIST team discovered the practical importance of high-frequency molecular rattling for protein preservation.**

But while sugars and other preservatives such as salts have been used for centuries, the prediction of how well a preservative works for a specific material has remained more an art than a science. Now, however, the NIST team has developed a relatively accessible measurement method for precisely quantifying the slowing down (or enhancement) of the local rattling motions in preservative formulations and have introduced a general mathematical framework for describing these changes. “This should remove much of the guesswork in determining the best way to protect a particular commodity,” says Jack Douglas of Polymers Division of NIST.

In the new paper, the team reveals a general pattern of behavior in the change in the rattling motions in mixtures that appears to apply to a variety of materials; these findings promise to be very helpful in the future development of preservatives. The paper also focuses on understanding the fundamental origin of high-frequency rattling’s effects, and it addresses enhancements in measurement and analysis that should allow researchers to optimize the preservation process.

“There’s a real regularity with which these changes occur, and we found a simple mathematical model that encapsulates these changes,” Douglas says. “The value here is that this mathematical framework allows you to consider this problem for many different materials.”

Douglas speculates that the discovery could help to extend the shelf life of vaccines significantly and also could be applied to preserving other biological materials such as seeds and prepared foods. The insight gained could even help to preserve library books. “These measurements can help determine the rate at which the changes occur, and that would help you predict how using more or less preservative might affect things, or how one substance stacks up against another,” Douglas says. “It could hasten discovery of the optimal additive for achieving a given end.”

More information:
* T. Psurek, C.L. Soles, K.A. Page, M.T. Cicerone and J.F. Douglas. Quantifying changes in the high-frequency dynamics of mixtures by dielectric spectroscopy. Journal of Physical Chemistry B, 2008, 112, 15980-15990.

** M.T. Cicerone and C.L. Soles. Fast dynamics and stabilization of proteins: Binary glasses of trehalose and glycerol. Biophysical Journal 2004, 86, 3836-3845.

Provided by NIST

Explore further: Biosensor may improve clinical diagnosis of influenza A

Related Stories

Charter nears deal for Time Warner Cable

17 minutes ago

Charter Communications Inc. is close to buying Time Warner Cable for about $55 billion, according to two people familiar with the negotiations.

The monopoly of aluminium is broken

1 hour ago

Discovering Majorana's was only the first step, but utilizing it as a quantum bit (qubit) still remains a major challenge. An important step towards this goal has just been taken, as shown by researchers ...

Yik Yak's frat-bro founders shrug off growing pains

2 hours ago

The most popular post of all time on Yik Yak is a dirty joke. Less than 2 years old, the Atlanta-based social network is geared mostly toward college students who access and post unsigned announcements through an app on their ...

Recommended for you

Biosensor may improve clinical diagnosis of influenza A

40 minutes ago

Sensors based on special sound waves known as surface acoustic waves (SAWs) are capable of detecting tiny amounts of antigens of Influenza A viruses. Developed by A*STAR researchers, the biosensors have the ...

New chip makes testing for antibiotic-resistant bacteria faster, easier

17 hours ago

We live in fear of 'superbugs': infectious bacteria that don't respond to treatment by antibiotics, and can turn a routine hospital stay into a nightmare. A 2015 Health Canada report estimates that superbugs have already cost Canadians $1 billion, and are a "serious and growing issue." Each year two million people in the U.S. contract antibiotic-re ...

Researchers find 'decoder ring' powers in micro RNA

19 hours ago

MicroRNA can serve as a "decoder ring" for understanding complex biological processes, a team of New York University chemists has found. Their study, which appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, points ...

DNA mutations get harder to hide

23 hours ago

Rice University researchers have developed a method to detect rare DNA mutations with an approach hundreds of times more powerful than current methods.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.