Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Chemistry: Scientists unlock mystery of how 'handedness' arises in proteins, other functional molecules

Date:
May 8, 2012
Source:
University of California - Los Angeles
Summary:
Chemists have solved a molecular mystery. The overwhelming majority of proteins and other functional molecules in our bodies display a striking molecular characteristic: They can exist in two distinct forms that are mirror images of each other, like your right hand and left hand. Surprisingly, each of our bodies prefers only one of these molecular forms.

Achiral triangles form chiral super-structures Achiral triangles form chiral super-structures The colored patches in the field of triangles indicate newly formed chiral structures. Colored patches represent parallelogram outlines around pairs of triangles that have formed chiral super-structures. Parallelograms having different "handedness" and orientations are color-coded and superimposed over each other.
Credit: Thomas G. Mason and Kun Zhao

The overwhelming majority of proteins and other functional molecules in our bodies display a striking molecular characteristic: They can exist in two distinct forms that are mirror images of each other, like your right hand and left hand. Surprisingly, each of our bodies prefers only one of these molecular forms.

Related Articles


This mirror-image phenomenon -- known as chirality or "handedness" -- has captured the imagination of a UCLA research group led by Thomas G. Mason, a professor of chemistry and physics and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

Mason has been exploring how and why chirality arises, and his newest findings on the physical origins of the phenomenon were published May 1 in the journal Nature Communications.

"Objects like our hands are chiral, while objects like regular triangles are achiral, meaning they don't have a handedness to them," said Mason, the senior author of the study. "Achiral objects can be easily superimposed on top of one another."

Why many of the important functional molecules in our bodies almost always occur in just one chiral form when they could potentially exist in either is a mystery that has confounded researchers for years.

"Our bodies contain important molecules like proteins that overwhelmingly have one type of chirality," Mason said. "The other chiral form is essentially not found. I find that fascinating. We asked, 'Could this biological preference of a particular chirality possibly have a physical origin?'"

In addressing this question, Mason and his team sought to discover how chirality occurs in the first place. Their findings offer new insights into how the phenomenon can arise spontaneously, even with achiral building-blocks.

Mason and his colleagues used a manufacturing technique called lithography, which is the basis for making computer chips, to make millions of microscale particles in the shape of achiral triangles. In the past, Mason has used this technique to "print" particles in a wide variety of shapes, and even in the form of letters of the alphabet.

Using optical microscopy, the researchers then studied very dense systems of these lithographic triangular particles. To their surprise, they discovered that the achiral triangles spontaneously arranged themselves to form two-triangle "super-structures," with each super-structure exhibiting a particular chirality.

In the image that accompanies this article, the colored outlines in the field of triangles indicate chiral super-structures having particular orientations.

So what is causing this phenomenon to occur? Entropy, says Mason. His group has shown for the first time that chiral structures can originate from physical entropic forces acting on uniform achiral particles.

"It's quite bizarre," Mason said. "You're starting with achiral components -- triangles -- which undergo Brownian motion and you end up with the spontaneous formation of super-structures that have a handedness or chirality. I would never have anticipated that in a million years."

Entropy is usually thought of as a disordering force, but that doesn't capture its subtler aspects. In this case, when the triangular particles are diffusing and interacting at very high densities on a flat surface, each particle can actually maximize its "wiggle room" by becoming partially ordered into a liquid crystal (a phase of matter between a liquid and a solid) made out of chiral super-structures of triangles.

"We discovered that just two physical ingredients -- entropy and particle shape -- are enough to cause chirality to appear spontaneously in dense systems," Mason said. "In my 25 years of doing research, I never thought that I would see chirality occur in a system of achiral objects driven by entropic forces."

As for the future of this research, "We are very interested to see what happens with other shapes and if we can eventually control the chiral formations that we see occurring here spontaneously," he said.

"To me, it's intriguing, because I think about the chiral preference in biology," Mason added. "How did this chiral preference happen? What are the minimum ingredients for that to occur? We're learning some new physical rules, but the story in biology is far from complete. We have added another chapter to the story, and I'm amazed by these findings."

To learn more, a message board accompanies the publication in Nature Communications, an online journal, as a forum for interactive discussion.

This research was funded by the University of California. Kun Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher in Mason's laboratory, made many key contributions, including fabricating the triangle particles, creating the two-dimensional system of particles, performing the optical microscopy experiments, carrying out extensive particle-tracking analysis and interpreting the results.

Along with Mason, co-author Robijn Bruinsma, a UCLA professor of theoretical physics and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, contributed to the understanding of the chiral symmetry breaking and the liquid crystal phases.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. The original article was written by Melody Pupols. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kun Zhao, Robijn Bruinsma, Thomas G. Mason. Local chiral symmetry breaking in triatic liquid crystals. Nature Communications, 2012; 3: 801 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1803

Cite This Page:

University of California - Los Angeles. "Chemistry: Scientists unlock mystery of how 'handedness' arises in proteins, other functional molecules." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120508163330.htm>.
University of California - Los Angeles. (2012, May 8). Chemistry: Scientists unlock mystery of how 'handedness' arises in proteins, other functional molecules. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120508163330.htm
University of California - Los Angeles. "Chemistry: Scientists unlock mystery of how 'handedness' arises in proteins, other functional molecules." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120508163330.htm (accessed October 26, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

IKEA Desk Converts From Standing to Sitting With One Button

IKEA Desk Converts From Standing to Sitting With One Button

Buzz60 (Oct. 24, 2014) IKEA is out with a new convertible desk that can convert from a sitting desk to a standing one with just the push of a button. Jen Markham explains. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Protective Suits Being Made in China

Ebola Protective Suits Being Made in China

AFP (Oct. 24, 2014) A factory in China is busy making Ebola protective suits for healthcare workers and others fighting the spread of the virus. Duration: 00:38 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Real-Life Transformer Robot Walks, Then Folds Into a Car

Real-Life Transformer Robot Walks, Then Folds Into a Car

Buzz60 (Oct. 24, 2014) Brave Robotics and Asratec teamed with original Transformers toy company Tomy to create a functional 5-foot-tall humanoid robot that can march and fold itself into a 3-foot-long sports car. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Police Testing New Gunfire Tracking Technology

Police Testing New Gunfire Tracking Technology

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) A California-based startup has designed new law enforcement technology that aims to automatically alert dispatch when an officer's gun is unholstered and fired. Two law enforcement agencies are currently testing the technology. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

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