Scientists watch on the atomic level how individual molecules recognize each other

May 02, 2007

The body is an almost perfect machine. For it to function properly, each individual component, that is each molecule, must reliably fulfill its specific function. Each molecule must thus “recognize” other molecules and work with them. A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, the Fraunhofer Institute in Freiburg, and King’s College in London, has now successfully filmed pairs of molecules during the recognition process. As reported to the journal Angewandte Chemie, the shapes of the molecules change to accommodate each other.

Like humans, molecules also “greet” each other with a kind of “handshake”. Anyone who has tried to shake someone’s right hand with his or her own left will have had a little trouble: the right and left hands do not fit together. In the same way, some molecules that exist in both a right-handed (D) and left-handed (L) configuration can tell if others they encounter are the D or L form.

Magali Lingenfelder and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research have now been able to use scanning tunneling microscopy to take a series of pictures that follow in detail the “encounters” of diphenylalanine molecules adsorbed onto a substrate. (Diphenylalanine is the central structural unit within polypeptide fibers found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.) The “film sequences” reveal that only molecules with the same chirality (handedness) readily aggregate into pairs and chains.

Just as in a handshake, it is not enough that the right hands hold each other. To grip each other firmly, the two hands must adapt to fit their shapes together. Molecules do the same: close examination of the “film”, in conjunction with theoretical calculations by researchers from King’s College, prove that this type of dynamic accommodation of shape also occurs when two molecules “shake hands”.

“Our work finally demonstrates that Linus Pauling was right with his theory of intermolecular conformation of over 50 years ago,” says Lingenfelder. “In molecular recognition, it is not so much the static forms that are important, but rather how well the molecules can conform to each other.”

Citation: Magalí Lingenfelder, Tracking the Chiral Recognition of Adsorbed Dipeptides at the Single-Molecule Level, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, doi: 10.1002/anie.200700194

Source: Angewandte Chemie

Explore further: Toward making lithium-sulfur batteries a commercial reality for a bigger energy punch

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists make diseased cells synthesize their own drug

Sep 02, 2014

In a new study that could ultimately lead to many new medicines, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have adapted a chemical approach to turn diseased cells into unique manufacturing ...

Catalytic gold nanoclusters promise rich chemical yields

Aug 25, 2014

(Phys.org) —Old thinking was that gold, while good for jewelry, was not of much use for chemists because it is relatively nonreactive. That changed a decade ago when scientists hit a rich vein of discoveries ...

Chemists uncover powerful new click chemistry reactivity

Aug 14, 2014

Chemists led by Nobel laureate K. Barry Sharpless at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have used his click chemistry to uncover unprecedented, powerful reactivity for making new drugs, diagnostics, plastics, smart materials ...

Scientists fold RNA origami from a single strand

Aug 14, 2014

RNA origami is a new method for organizing molecules on the nanoscale. Using just a single strand of RNA, many complicated shapes can be fabricated by this technique. Unlike existing methods for folding DNA ...

Recommended for you

For electronics beyond silicon, a new contender emerges

Sep 16, 2014

Silicon has few serious competitors as the material of choice in the electronics industry. Yet transistors, the switchable valves that control the flow of electrons in a circuit, cannot simply keep shrinking ...

Making quantum dots glow brighter

Sep 16, 2014

Researchers from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of Oklahoma have found a new way to control the properties of quantum dots, those tiny chunks of semiconductor material that glow ...

The future face of molecular electronics

Sep 16, 2014

The emerging field of molecular electronics could take our definition of portable to the next level, enabling the construction of tiny circuits from molecular components. In these highly efficient devices, ...

Study sheds new light on why batteries go bad

Sep 14, 2014

A comprehensive look at how tiny particles in a lithium ion battery electrode behave shows that rapid-charging the battery and using it to do high-power, rapidly draining work may not be as damaging as researchers ...

User comments : 0