Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

By tracking water molecules, physicists hope to unlock secrets of life

Date:
March 1, 2010
Source:
Rockefeller University
Summary:
The key to life as we know it is water, a tiny molecule with some highly unusual properties, such as the ability to retain large amounts of heat and to lose, instead of gain, density as it solidifies. It behaves so differently from other liquids, in fact, that by some measures it shouldn't even exist. Now scientists have made a batch of new discoveries about the ubiquitous liquid, suggesting that an individual water molecule's interactions with its neighbors could someday be manipulated to solve some of the world's thorniest problems -- from agriculture to cancer.

Supercool. As individual water molecules fluctuate, breaking and forming bonds with their nearest neighbors, the result is slightly imperfect tetrahedral structures that are constantly in flux. Research suggests that these fluctuations give rise to some of water's most unusual and life-sustaining features.
Credit: Image courtesy of Rockefeller University

The key to life as we know it is water, a tiny molecule with some highly unusual properties, such as the ability to retain large amounts of heat and to lose, instead of gain, density as it solidifies. It behaves so differently from other liquids, in fact, that by some measures it shouldn't even exist. Now scientists have made a batch of new discoveries about the ubiquitous liquid, suggesting that an individual water molecule's interactions with its neighbors could someday be manipulated to solve some of the world's thorniest problems -- from agriculture to cancer.

The work, led by Pradeep Kumar, a fellow at Rockefeller University's Center for Studies in Physics and Biology who looks at the role of water in biology, makes it possible to measure how interaction between water molecules affect any number of properties in a system. It also paves the way for understanding how water can be manipulated to facilitate or prevent substances from dissolving in it, an advance that could impact every corner of society, from reforming agricultural practices to improving chemotherapy drugs whose side effects arise from their solubility or insolubility in water.

Kumar and his colleagues first tracked individual water molecules in a "supercooled" state (water that remains in liquid form even at below freezing temperatures), during which water's many anomalies are enhanced. "When you put water in a freezer, it doesn't freeze instantaneously," says Kumar. "It takes some time. If you have extremely pure water, then you can go down to about 230 Kelvin and still have enough time to measure different physical properties of water including the specific heat in its liquid state." Kumar and his colleagues then used theoretical and computational approaches to simulate the activity of these water molecules and measure their interactions with neighbors.

In the liquid state, every water molecule fleetingly interacts with its four nearest neighbors, forming a tetrahedron, explains Kumar. These tetrahedrons, however, are slightly imperfect and the degree to which they are changes as temperature and pressure change, ultimately affecting which individual water molecules partner up with each other. Kumar found that it is the fluctuations in the degree of tetrahedrality that contribute most to one of water's most notable and valuable features -- its capacity to resist heating or cooling and thereby regulating and maintaining the temperature of biological systems.

The ability to measure water's shifting degrees of tetrahedrality also gives scientists a means of measuring how much order or disorder each water molecule imparts. The better the tetrahedron, the more order it imparts in the system. "What we have done essentially is define the structural entropy of every molecule in our system," says Kumar. "And since water molecules are constantly moving in space and time, this gives you a way to study the transport of entropy associated with local tetrahedrality -- something that has never been done before."

Understanding how individual water molecules maneuver in a system to form fleeting tetrahedral structures and how changing physical conditions such as temperatures and pressures affect the amount of disorder each imparts on that system may help scientists understand why certain substances, like drugs used in chemotherapy, are soluble in water and why some are not.

It could also help understand how this changing network of bonds and ordering of local tetrahedrality between water molecules changes the nature of protein folding and degradation. "Understanding hydrophobicity, and how different conditions change it, is probably one of the most fundamental components in understanding how proteins fold in water and how different biomolecules remain stable in it," says Kumar. "And if we understand this, we will not only have a new way of thinking about physics and biology but also a new way to approach health and disease."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Rockefeller University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kumar et al. A tetrahedral entropy for water. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; 106 (52): 22130 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0911094106

Cite This Page:

Rockefeller University. "By tracking water molecules, physicists hope to unlock secrets of life." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100227215943.htm>.
Rockefeller University. (2010, March 1). By tracking water molecules, physicists hope to unlock secrets of life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100227215943.htm
Rockefeller University. "By tracking water molecules, physicists hope to unlock secrets of life." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100227215943.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

German Researchers Crack Samsung's Fingerprint Scanner

German Researchers Crack Samsung's Fingerprint Scanner

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) German researchers have used a fake fingerprint made from glue to bypass the fingerprint security system on Samsung's new Galaxy S5 smartphone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Porsche CEO Says Supercar Is Not Dead: Cue the Spyder 918

Porsche CEO Says Supercar Is Not Dead: Cue the Spyder 918

TheStreet (Apr. 16, 2014) The Porsche Spyder 918 proves that, in an automotive world obsessed with fuel efficiency, the supercar is not dead. Porsche North America CEO Detlev von Platen attributes the brand's consistent sales growth -- 21% in 2013 -- with an investment in new technology and expanded performance dynamics. The hybrid Spyder 918 has 887 horsepower and 944 lb-ft of torque, but it can run 18 miles on just an electric charge. The $845,000 vehicle is not a consumer-targeted vehicle but a brand statement. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com
Industry's Optimism Shines At New York Auto Show

Industry's Optimism Shines At New York Auto Show

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) After seeing auto sales grow last month, there's plenty for the industry to celebrate as it rolls out its newest designs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ford Mustang Fetes Its 50th Atop Empire State Building

Ford Mustang Fetes Its 50th Atop Empire State Building

AFP (Apr. 16, 2014) Ford celebrated the 50th birthday of its beloved Mustang by displaying a new model of the convertible on top of the Empire State Building in New York. Duration: 00:28 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins