"What we've developed is a simple and inexpensive sensor for determining when a protein changes its conformation," said study co-author Richard N. Zare, the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science in Stanford's Department of Chemistry. According to Zare, the new sensor may eventually provide biomedical researchers a fast, affordable method for detecting antibodies and other disease-related proteins. Acid and base
In their experiment, Zare, postdoctoral fellow Soonwoo Chah and graduate student Matthew R. Hammond created a liquid solution containing nano-sized particles of gold saturated with a protein called cytochrome c.
"We chose gold nanoparticles because they are simple to prepare, easy to control and cost effective," the authors wrote. "To the best of our knowledge, however, gold nanoparticles have not been previously used to investigate the folding and unfolding of proteins."
The initial batch of gold-cytochrome solution had a rosy red hue and a pH value of 10--about the same as an over-the-counter heartburn medication. But when drops of hydrochloric acid were added, the solution began to change color, turning purple when the pH reached 5.8 and light blue at pH 4, which is close to the acidity of wine. Lab analysis revealed that additional hydrochloric acid was causing the cytochrome c molecules to unfold. As a result, gold nanoparticles coated with cytochrome c began clumping together