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Scientists watch as peptides control crystal growth with 'switches, throttles and brakes'
Date:11/23/2009

LIVERMORE, Calif. - By producing some of the highest resolution images of peptides attaching to mineral surfaces, scientists have a deeper understanding how biomolecules manipulate the growth crystals. This research may lead to a new treatment for kidney stones using biomolecules.

The research, which appears in the Nov. 23 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explores how peptides interact with mineral surfaces by accelerating, switching and inhibiting their growth.

The team, made up of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley, the University of California, Davis and the University of Alabama, for the first time produced single-molecule resolution images of this peptide-mineral interaction.

Inorganic minerals play an important role in most biological organisms. Bone, teeth, protective shells or the intricate cell walls of marine diatoms are some displays of biomineralization, where living organisms form structures using inorganic material. Some minerals also can have negative effects on an organism such as in kidney and gallstones, which lead to severe suffering and internal damage in humans and other mammals.

Understanding how organisms limit the growth of pathological inorganic minerals is important in developing new treatment strategies. But deciphering the complex pathways that organisms use to create strong and versatile structures from relatively simple materials is no easy feat. To better understand the process, scientists attempt to mimic them in the laboratory.

By improving the resolution power of an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), the PNAS authors were able to image individual atomic layers of the crystal interacting with small protein fragments, or peptides, as they fell on the surface of the crystal.

"Imaging biomolecules that are weakly attached to a surface, while simultaneously achieving
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Contact: Anne Stark
stark8@llnl.gov
925-422-9799
DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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