Scientists discover new method of proton transfer

March 21, 2012

Scientists at USC and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have discovered a new route by which a proton (a hydrogen atom that lost its electron) can move from one molecule to another - a basic component of countless chemical and biological reactions.

"This is a radically new way by which proton transfer may occur," said Anna Krylov, professor of chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Krylov is a co-corresponding author of a paper on the new process that was published online by Nature Chemistry on March 18.

Krylov and her colleagues demonstrated that protons are not obligated to travel along hydrogen bonds, as previously believed. The finding suggests that protons may move efficiently in stacked systems of molecules, which are common in plant biomass, membranes, DNA and elsewhere.

Armed with the new knowledge, scientists may be able to better understand chemical reactions involving catalysts, how biomass (plant material) can be used as a renewable fuel source, how melanin (which causes skin pigmentation) protects our bodies from the sun's rays, and damage to DNA.

"By better understanding how these processes operate at molecular level, scientists will be able to design new catalysts, better fuels, and more efficient drugs," Krylov said.

Hydrogen atoms are often shared between two molecules, forming a so-called hydrogen bond. This bond determines structures and properties of everything from liquid water to the DNA double helix and proteins.

Hydrogen bonds also serve as pathways by which protons may travel from one molecule to another, like a road between two houses. But what happens if there's no road?

To find out, Krylov and fellow corresponding author Ahmed Musahid of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab created a system in which two molecules were stacked on top of each other, without hydrogen bonds between them. Then they ionized one of the molecules to coax a proton to move from one place to another.

Ahmed and Krylov discovered that when there's no straight road between the two houses, the houses (molecules) can rearrange themselves so that their front doors are close together. In that way, the proton can travel from one to the other with no hydrogen bond - and with little energy. Then the molecules return to their original positions.

"We've come up with the picture of a new process," Krylov said.
-end-
This research was performed under the auspices of the iOpenShell Center and supported by the US Department of Energy, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the National Science Foundation.

University of Southern California

Related DNA Articles from Brightsurf:

A new twist on DNA origami
A team* of scientists from ASU and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) led by Hao Yan, ASU's Milton Glick Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, and director of the ASU Biodesign Institute's Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, has just announced the creation of a new type of meta-DNA structures that will open up the fields of optoelectronics (including information storage and encryption) as well as synthetic biology.

Solving a DNA mystery
''A watched pot never boils,'' as the saying goes, but that was not the case for UC Santa Barbara researchers watching a ''pot'' of liquids formed from DNA.

Junk DNA might be really, really useful for biocomputing
When you don't understand how things work, it's not unusual to think of them as just plain old junk.

Designing DNA from scratch: Engineering the functions of micrometer-sized DNA droplets
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) have constructed ''DNA droplets'' comprising designed DNA nanostructures.

Does DNA in the water tell us how many fish are there?
Researchers have developed a new non-invasive method to count individual fish by measuring the concentration of environmental DNA in the water, which could be applied for quantitative monitoring of aquatic ecosystems.

Zigzag DNA
How the cell organizes DNA into tightly packed chromosomes. Nature publication by Delft University of Technology and EMBL Heidelberg.

Scientists now know what DNA's chaperone looks like
Researchers have discovered the structure of the FACT protein -- a mysterious protein central to the functioning of DNA.

DNA is like everything else: it's not what you have, but how you use it
A new paradigm for reading out genetic information in DNA is described by Dr.

A new spin on DNA
For decades, researchers have chased ways to study biological machines.

From face to DNA: New method aims to improve match between DNA sample and face database
Predicting what someone's face looks like based on a DNA sample remains a hard nut to crack for science.

Read More: DNA News and DNA Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.