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

single-molecule resolution, is normally difficult to do without knocking the molecules off," said Raymond Friddle, an LLNL postdoctoral fellow. But the team improved upon previous methods and achieved unprecedented resolution of the molecular structure of the crystal surface during the dynamic interaction of each growing layer with peptides. "We were able to watch peptides adhere to the surface, temporarily slow down a layer of the growing crystal, and surprisingly 'hop' to the next level of the crystal surface."

The images also revealed a mechanism that molecules can use to bind to surfaces that would normally repel them. The high resolution images showed that peptides will cluster together on crystal faces that present the same electronic charge. Under certain conditions the peptides would slow down growth, while under other conditions the peptides could speed up growth.

On another face of the crystal, where the peptides were expected to bind strongly, the researchers found instead that the peptides did not attach to the surface unless the crystal growth slowed. The peptides needed to bind in a specific way to the face, which takes more time than a non-specific attachment. As a result, the growing layers of the crystal were able to shed off the peptides as they attempted to bind.

But when the researchers slowed down the crystal growth rate, the peptides collapsed onto the surface so strongly that they completely stopped growth. The researchers proposed that the phenomenon is due to the unique properties of bio-polymers, such as peptides or polyelectrolytes, which fluctuate in solution before resting in a stable configuration on a surface.

"The results of the catastrophic drop in growth by peptides suggest ways that organisms achieve protection against pathological mineralization," said Jim De Yoreo, the project lead and deputy director of research at LBNL's Molecular Foundry. "Once growth is halted, a very high concentration of
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Contact: Anne Stark
stark8@llnl.gov
925-422-9799
DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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