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Nanotechnology machines may benefit from arcane bond

Oregon State researchers led by Pui Shing Ho, professor and chair of the OSU Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, have “re-discovered” and are now exploring the uses of the halogen bond for nanotechnology. From the PNAS abstract:

The halogen bond, a noncovalent interaction involving polarizable chlorine, bromine, or iodine molecular substituents, is now being exploited to control the assembly of small molecules in the design of supramolecular complexes and new materials…This study helps to establish halogen bonding as a potential tool for the rational design and construction of molecular materials with DNA and other biological macromolecules.

It’s explained for the layperson by the newspaper Bend Weekly News:

It’s now understood that this arcane type of chemical bond, which is based on bromine, iodine or chlorine instead of hydrogen, may have characteristics that could be tapped for a new approach to biological engineering.

“Natural biological molecules have some powerful capabilities that we might like to take advantage of, such as the ability to convert biological energy to mechanical energy with incredible efficiency,” Ho said. “But to do that, we need ways to carefully control their behavior, movement and function. The halogen bonds might allow us to do this.”

Among the possibilities could be computers that operate at the size of biological molecules, a molecular “walker” that could control the movement of molecules at the nano-scale, or molecular scissors that provide a way to cut molecules. Such systems done with biological materials would act like extraordinarily small machines, and might also be more environmentally friendly.

Extraordinarily small machines which could be more environmentally friendly — sounds good to us. —Christine

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