UCLA physicists have taken a significant step in controlling chemical reactions mechanically, an important advance in nanotechnology, UCLA physics professor Giovanni Zocchi and colleagues report.
Chemical reactions in the cell are catalyzed by enzymes, which are protein molecules that speed up reactions. Each protein catalyzes a specific reaction. In a chemical reaction, two molecules collide and exchange atoms; the enzyme is the third party, the "midwife to the reaction."
But the molecules have to collide in a certain way for the reaction to occur. The enzyme binds to the molecules and lines them up, forcing them to collide in the "right" way, so the probability that the molecules will exchange atoms is much higher.
"Instead of just watching what the molecules do, we can mechanically prod them," said Zocchi, the senior author of the research.
To do that, Zocchi and his graduate students, Chiao-Yu Tseng and Andrew Wang, attached a controllable molecular spring made of DNA to the enzyme. The spring is about 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. They can mechanically turn the enzyme on and off and control how fast the chemical reaction occurs. In their newest research, they attached the molecular spring at three different locations on the enzyme and were able to mechanically influence different specific steps of the reaction.
They published their research in the journal Europhysics Letters, a publication of the European Physical Society, in July.
"We have stressed the enzyme in different ways," Zocchi said. "We can measure the effect on the chemical reaction of stressing the molecule this way or that way. Stressing the molecule in different locations produces different responses. If you attach the molecular spring in one place, nothing much happens to the chemical reaction, but you attach it to a different place and you affect one step in the chemical reaction. Then you att
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University of California -- Los Angeles