May 31, 2000 Nearly all biomolecules are chiral compounds. That is, they exist in two forms (enantiomers) which are non-superimposable mirror images of each other. While otherwise identical, enantiomers typically have key differences. For example, they may rotate the plane of polarized light in opposite directions. Now, a New York University team led by chemist James W. Canary has developed a molecule with switchable chirality.
The molecule was developed by adding copper ions to a derivative of the amino acid methionine. The investigators were then able to switch the molecule's chirality by the addition or removal of an electron. Furthermore, they found that the molecule's chirality could be switched repeatedly, and that the two forms of the molecules polarized light in opposite directions.
According to Canary, manipulation of the handedness of molecular shape is an uncommon but potentially very useful phenomenon, which could eventually have applications in molecular computing and other nanotechnology. A provisional patent has been issued to NYU covering the research.
The title of the Science article is "Electron-Induced Inversion of Helical Chirality of Copper Complexes of N,N-Dialkylmethionines." The corresponding author is James W. Canary. Graduate student Steffen Zahn is a co-author on the article.
Canary said, "We know chirality is tremendously significant in biology, and there are certain areas of material science where it has played a role - - liquid crystal displays and non-linear optics, for example. Discoveries like this one may provide new applications for chiral materials applications."
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
James W. Canary received his Ph.D. at the University of California at Los Angeles under the direction of Nobel Prize-winner Donald Cram. He joined the New York University faculty in 1991 after completing an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University.
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