Biology, materials science get boost with robust imaging tool

Biology, materials science get boost with robust imaging tool

4:09 PM, 11th August 2011
Biology, materials science get boost with robust imaging tool
Andrew H Marcus, Chemist, University of Oregon.

 

EUGENE, US: Shape and alignment are everything. How nanometre-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 the 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 Centre for Optics, Materials Science Institute and Institute of Molecular Biology.

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

Work already is underway to modify the experimental instrumentation to apply the research on DNA replication machinery. “It’s a strategy that will allow us to do two things: Look at these complexes one molecule at a time and perform experiments at short ultraviolet wavelengths to look at DNA problems,” he said.

In addition, the approach should be useful to materials scientists striving to understand and harness the necessary conformation of polymers used in the production of nanoscale devices. “In biology, large molecules assemble to form complex structures that all work together like a machine,” said Marcus. “The way these nanoscale structures form and become functional is an actively pursued question.”

The technique builds on earlier versions of two-dimensional (2D) optical spectroscopy that emerged in efforts to get around limitations involved in applying X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance, said Marcus. “With fluorescence, you can see and measure what happens one molecule at time. We expect this approach will allow us to look at individual molecular assemblies,” he added.

Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI), the National Science Foundation and US Department of Energy supported the research. Marcus is a researcher in ONAMI, a collaboration involving the UO, Oregon State University, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland State University, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the state of Oregon and private industry.

Geoffrey A Lott, who earned a Doctorate at the UO and Alejandro Perdomo-Ortiz, a Doctoral Student in Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology, were lead authors on the paper. Additional co-authors were James K Utterback, an UO Undergraduate Student in physics and 2009 Barry M Goldwater Scholarship recipient and Julia R Widom, a UO Doctoral Student.

(C) University of Oregon News

 

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