Magazine article Science News

Big Molecules, from Bottom Up: Chemists Use Templates to Build Precise Ring Structures

Magazine article Science News

Big Molecules, from Bottom Up: Chemists Use Templates to Build Precise Ring Structures

Article excerpt

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.

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

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"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. "People often want to make objects that are a particular size and shape."

While nature is fond of using templates to build structures--a single strand of DNA, for example, is the template for the other strand--tools that enable such precision have eluded chemists. …

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