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Chemists make beds with soft landings
Date:8/17/2008

RICHLAND, Wash. -- Bedsprings aren't often found in biology. Now, chemists have succeeded in making a layer of tiny protein coils attached to a surface, much like miniature bedsprings in a frame. This thin film made of stable and very pure helices can help researchers develop molecular electronics or solar cells, or to divine the biology of proteins.

Physical chemists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory pulled off this design trick using a "soft-landing" technique that disperses the tiny protein coils onto a waiting surface. The small proteins called peptides are of a variety that normally take the shape of a coiled spring or helix in gas phase. The method used by PNNL's Julia Laskin and Peng Wang delivered ultra-pure helical peptides to the surface and trapped them there, they report in July 29 and will appear in print in an upcoming issue of Angewandte Chemie.

"Controlling the conformation of peptides is not easy," said Laskin. "Our previous studies showed that soft-landing can be used to prepare ultrapure peptide layers on substrates. The question we faced was, in addition to controlling purity, can we also control the structure of the molecules? We showed we could."

Researchers have been trying to make thin films of helical peptides for many years. Because the peptides line up in an orderly fashion, the overall chemical nature of the thin films make them useful for a variety of technological applications. They can be modified with light sensitive molecules and turned into components of solar cells; or designed to change shape when a current is applied for molecular electronics. Also, the helices themselves can be used to elicit cues about how proteins function.

After making the thin films out of generic peptides previously, Laskin and Wang wanted to use this method to make a film out of helical peptides, and compare it with a more common method called electrospray.

To do so,
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Contact: Mary Beckman
mary.beckman@pnl.gov
509-375-3688
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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Chemists make beds with soft landings
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