Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UCLA life scientists unlock mystery of how 'handedness' arises

09.05.2012
The overwhelming majority of proteins and other functional molecules in our bodies display a striking molecular characteristic

They can exist in two distinct forms that are mirror images of each other, like your right hand and left hand. Surprisingly, each of our bodies prefers only one of these molecular forms.


Colored patches represent parallelogram outlines around pairs of triangles that have formed chiral super-structures. Parallelograms having different "handedness" and orientations are color-coded and superimposed over each other.

Credit: Thomas G. Mason and Kun Zhao

This mirror-image phenomenon — known as chirality or "handedness" — has captured the imagination of a UCLA research group led by Thomas G. Mason, a professor of chemistry and physics and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

Mason has been exploring how and why chirality arises, and his newest findings on the physical origins of the phenomenon were published May 1 in the journal Nature Communications.

"Objects like our hands are chiral, while objects like regular triangles are achiral, meaning they don't have a handedness to them," said Mason, the senior author of the study. "Achiral objects can be easily superimposed on top of one another."

Why many of the important functional molecules in our bodies almost always occur in just one chiral form when they could potentially exist in either is a mystery that has confounded researchers for years.

"Our bodies contain important molecules like proteins that overwhelmingly have one type of chirality," Mason said. "The other chiral form is essentially not found. I find that fascinating. We asked, 'Could this biological preference of a particular chirality possibly have a physical origin?'"

In addressing this question, Mason and his team sought to discover how chirality occurs in the first place. Their findings offer new insights into how the phenomenon can arise spontaneously, even with achiral building-blocks.

Mason and his colleagues used a manufacturing technique called lithography, which is the basis for making computer chips, to make millions of microscale particles in the shape of achiral triangles. In the past, Mason has used this technique to "print" particles in a wide variety of shapes, and even in the form of letters of the alphabet.

Using optical microscopy, the researchers then studied very dense systems of these lithographic triangular particles. To their surprise, they discovered that the achiral triangles spontaneously arranged themselves to form two-triangle "super-structures," with each super-structure exhibiting a particular chirality.

In the image that accompanies this article, the colored outlines in the field of triangles indicate chiral super-structures having particular orientations.

So what is causing this phenomenon to occur? Entropy, says Mason. His group has shown for the first time that chiral structures can originate from physical entropic forces acting on uniform achiral particles.

"It's quite bizarre," Mason said. "You're starting with achiral components — triangles — which undergo Brownian motion and you end up with the spontaneous formation of super-structures that have a handedness or chirality. I would never have anticipated that in a million years."

Entropy is usually thought of as a disordering force, but that doesn't capture its subtler aspects. In this case, when the triangular particles are diffusing and interacting at very high densities on a flat surface, each particle can actually maximize its "wiggle room" by becoming partially ordered into a liquid crystal (a phase of matter between a liquid and a solid) made out of chiral super-structures of triangles.

"We discovered that just two physical ingredients — entropy and particle shape — are enough to cause chirality to appear spontaneously in dense systems," Mason said. "In my 25 years of doing research, I never thought that I would see chirality occur in a system of achiral objects driven by entropic forces."

As for the future of this research, "We are very interested to see what happens with other shapes and if we can eventually control the chiral formations that we see occurring here spontaneously," he said.

"To me, it's intriguing, because I think about the chiral preference in biology," Mason added. "How did this chiral preference happen? What are the minimum ingredients for that to occur? We're learning some new physical rules, but the story in biology is far from complete. We have added another chapter to the story, and I'm amazed by these findings."

To learn more, a message board accompanies the publication in Nature Communications, an online journal, as a forum for interactive discussion.

This research was funded by the University of California. Kun Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher in Mason's laboratory, made many key contributions, including fabricating the triangle particles, creating the two-dimensional system of particles, performing the optical microscopy experiments, carrying out extensive particle-tracking analysis and interpreting the results.

Along with Mason, co-author Robijn Bruinsma, a UCLA professor of theoretical physics and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, contributed to the understanding of the chiral symmetry breaking and the liquid crystal phases.

CLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom and follow us on Twitter.

Stuart Wolpert | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucla.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Preserved and fresh – Neutrons show details of the freeze drying process
27.02.2020 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Detect cell changes faster
27.02.2020 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Werkstoff- und Strahltechnik IWS

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: High-pressure scientists in Bayreuth discover promising material for information technology

Researchers at the University of Bayreuth have discovered an unusual material: When cooled down to two degrees Celsius, its crystal structure and electronic properties change abruptly and significantly. In this new state, the distances between iron atoms can be tailored with the help of light beams. This opens up intriguing possibilities for application in the field of information technology. The scientists have presented their discovery in the journal "Angewandte Chemie - International Edition". The new findings are the result of close cooperation with partnering facilities in Augsburg, Dresden, Hamburg, and Moscow.

The material is an unusual form of iron oxide with the formula Fe₅O₆. The researchers produced it at a pressure of 15 gigapascals in a high-pressure laboratory...

Im Focus: From China to the South Pole: Joining forces to solve the neutrino mass puzzle

Study by Mainz physicists indicates that the next generation of neutrino experiments may well find the answer to one of the most pressing issues in neutrino physics

Among the most exciting challenges in modern physics is the identification of the neutrino mass ordering. Physicists from the Cluster of Excellence PRISMA+ at...

Im Focus: Therapies without drugs

Fraunhofer researchers are investigating the potential of microimplants to stimulate nerve cells and treat chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease. Find out what makes this form of treatment so appealing and which challenges the researchers still have to master.

A study by the Robert Koch Institute has found that one in four women will suffer from weak bladders at some point in their lives. Treatments of this condition...

Im Focus: A step towards controlling spin-dependent petahertz electronics by material defects

The operational speed of semiconductors in various electronic and optoelectronic devices is limited to several gigahertz (a billion oscillations per second). This constrains the upper limit of the operational speed of computing. Now researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg, Germany, and the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay have explained how these processes can be sped up through the use of light waves and defected solid materials.

Light waves perform several hundred trillion oscillations per second. Hence, it is natural to envision employing light oscillations to drive the electronic...

Im Focus: Freiburg researcher investigate the origins of surface texture

Most natural and artificial surfaces are rough: metals and even glasses that appear smooth to the naked eye can look like jagged mountain ranges under the microscope. There is currently no uniform theory about the origin of this roughness despite it being observed on all scales, from the atomic to the tectonic. Scientists suspect that the rough surface is formed by irreversible plastic deformation that occurs in many processes of mechanical machining of components such as milling.

Prof. Dr. Lars Pastewka from the Simulation group at the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg and his team have simulated such...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

70th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting: Around 70 Laureates set to meet with young scientists from approx. 100 countries

12.02.2020 | Event News

11th Advanced Battery Power Conference, March 24-25, 2020 in Münster/Germany

16.01.2020 | Event News

Laser Colloquium Hydrogen LKH2: fast and reliable fuel cell manufacturing

15.01.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Preserved and fresh – Neutrons show details of the freeze drying process

27.02.2020 | Life Sciences

Underwater Snail-o-Bot gets kick from light

27.02.2020 | Health and Medicine

Explained: Why water droplets 'bounce off the walls'

27.02.2020 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>