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Improving upon self-assembly

Inspired by the principle of the vernier scale for making precise measurements, chemists have reported a technique for using smaller templates to assemble rings of subunit molecules larger than the templates, thus providing a way to make large molecules from smaller molecules that is more precise than random self-assembly. From ScienceNews, written by Rachel Ehrenber “Building big molecules bottom-up“:

Just tossing mortar and bricks together won’t yield a tidy structure, but chemists must often resort to similar measures when building molecules the size of proteins, the workhorses of cells. Now researchers have developed a cleaner strategy for constructing such compounds. By employing one kind of molecule as a template, scientists can string together small biologically important molecules into larger ringed structures with unprecedented precision and no mess, a team reports in the Jan. 6 Nature [abstract].

The new technique hits a previously inaccessible sweet spot, yielding hefty molecules that approach the size of proteins, the macromolecules that are the movers and shakers of the cellular world. The method could become a broadly used tool for building big molecular structures, including more templates to build even larger compounds. And because the rings are built from strands of compounds of the same class as the pigment chlorophyll, the large loops may exhibit unusual electrical properties and could help researchers better understand how the pigments that drive photosynthesis harvest light.

“We’d like to think the use would be very general — there’s no reason it shouldn’t be,” says chemist Harry Anderson of the University of Oxford in England, who led the new work. “People often want to make objects that are a particular size and shape.” …

In the example published, the researchers used a template molecule with six binding sites for porphyrin molecules and building block strands of four porphyrin molecules each. Because six is not a multiple of four, three building block strands wrapped around two template molecules to give a one-to-one correspondence between number of binding sites and number of porphyrins so that after the strands were joined and the templates removed, the product was a ring of 12 porphyrin molecules 4.7 nm in diameter. Clearly a neat trick, but it will be interesting to see just how general this approach will prove to be and just how varied will be the molecular architectures produced.

5 Responses to “Improving upon self-assembly”

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  2. Kyle Says:

    To me this appears that the control / programming of molecular synthesis architectures (domains of reactivity placed within controlled regions of time and space) is approaching a much more defined language, hinting at new directions.

    Not only that but it seems that we are more and more each day finding order within the “chaos” of the nano realm.

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  4. SenatorMark4 Says:

    It seems that almost every day there is some new announcement where nanotech is messing with the photosynthesis chain. Months ago someone stripped and oxygen, now they’re building templates that could lead to large biologically active proteins and basing it on chlorphyll. If we’re not stripping electrons for direct power or moving to the hydrogen economy pretty soon I’m going to be disappointed. From the time my grandmother saw the first airplane to footprints on teh moon was just over 60 years. From the moon prints to the hydrogen economy should be shorter.

  5. Nanoman Says:

    The US Government needs to create a Manhattan Project for Nanotechnology, namely, MECHANICAL MOLECULAR MANUFACTURING. Instead of spending billions of dollars on scattered projects from dealing with obesity to pollution and the rest, develop TRUE Molecular Nanotechnology. Then, we can SOLVE ALL of these problems.

    Nanomachines will be used to dissolve excess fatty tissues and cleanse arteries, and build muscle, allowing you to eat whatever you want AND stay healthy and fit without exercise or dieting, AND, cheaply manufacture healthy food for everyone. That ends the obesity issue.

    Nanomachines will be used to cheaply mass produce material goods thus eliminating material lack which is the root cause of material poverty and thus ending the American and Western economic problems; we will switch from material scarcity to material abundance.

    Nanomachines will be used to cheaply mass produce solar electric converter sheeting and hydrogen chemical fuel cells and artificial photosynthesis systems and we will have nearly unlimited energy abundance, clean, cheap, and green. Thus no more burning fossil fuels.

    This is only the beginning. It would take a fraction of what has been wasted and spent, and we could solve all of these problems and more (And yes, nanotech WILL create NEW problems to replace the old ones but at least we won’t have the old ones to bother with).

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