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Researchers use neutrons to spy on the elusive hydronium ion
Date:8/8/2011

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico, August 8, 2011A Los Alamos National Laboratory research team has harnessed neutrons to view for the first time the critical role that an elusive molecule plays in certain biological reactions. The effort could aid in treatment of peptic ulcers or acid reflux disease, or allow for more efficient conversion of woody waste into transportation fuels.

In a paper appearing this week in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Los Alamos researchers join an international team in describing the role played by the elusive hydronium ion in the transfer of protons during enzyme-catalyzed reactions.

Prior to this research, no one has ever directly witnessed the role of the hydronium ion, a water molecule bound to an additional hydrogen ion, in macromolecular catalyststhe catalytic mechanisms of enzymes.

Researchers took an interest in an enzyme that has the potential to allow conversion of sugars in woody biomass into alcohol, a potential alternative fuel, because the enzyme loses its effectiveness when the pH value of the milieu is lowereda common occurrence in the interior of industrial yeast cells fermenting alcohol. As it turns out, this biochemical reaction also has ramifications for the activation of proton pumps in the stomach, which produces excess acid in those afflicted by gastric diseases.

The scientists sought to figure out the mechanism behind these reactions. Neutrons from the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center provided a possible tool for unveiling the secret agent at the heart of the chemistry.

Hydronium ions had not been seen before by researchers who attempted to use X-rays to understand the chemical mechanism of enzymes. This is because tiny hydrogen atoms are essentially invisible under X-rays. To help make things visible, the researchers substituted hydrogen in their enzyme samples with deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen that behaves chemically identical to its nonisotopic counte
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Contact: James E. Rickman
jamesr@lanl.gov
505-665-9203
DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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