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Biology, materials science get a boost from robust imaging tool
Date:8/8/2011

EUGENE, Ore. -- (Aug. 8, 2011) -- Shape and alignment are everything. How nanometer-sized pieces fit together into a whole structure determines how well a living cell or an artificially fabricated device performs. A new method to help understand and predict such structure has arrived with the successful use a new imaging tool.

Coupling laser-driven, two-dimensional fluorescence imaging and high-performance computer modeling, a six-member team -- led by University of Oregon chemist Andrew H. Marcus and Harvard University chemist Alan Aspuru-Guzik -- solved the conformation of self-assembled porphyrin molecules in a biological membrane.

Porphyrins are organic compounds that are ubiquitous in living things. They carry mobile electrical charges that can hop from molecule-to-molecule and allow for nanoscale communications and energy transfer. They are also building blocks in nanodevices.

The new technique -- phase-modulation 2D fluorescence spectroscopy -- is detailed in a paper scheduled to appear online this week ahead of regular publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The breakthrough skirts the often-needed step of obtaining crystals of molecules that are being studied, said Marcus, a member of the Oregon Center for Optics, Materials Science Institute and Institute of Molecular Biology. Most functional biological molecules don't easily form crystals.

"Our technique is a workable way to determine how macromolecular objects assemble and form the structures they will in biological environments," Marcus said. "It's robust and will provide a means to study biological protein-nucleic acid interactions."

Work already is underway to modify the experimental instrumentation in the UO's stable and temperature-controlled High Stability Optics Lab to apply the research on DNA replication machinery -- one category of the best-known macromolecular complexes, which consist of nucleic acids and proteins
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Contact: Jim Barlow
jebarlow@uoregon.edu
541-346-3481
University of Oregon
Source:Eurekalert  

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