Magazine article Science News

Making Molecules That Self-Assemble

Magazine article Science News

Making Molecules That Self-Assemble

Article excerpt

Making molecules that self-assemble

Filling a bag with toy car parts -- little chassis, wheels, windows, engines and seats -- and then shaking it up yields a bag of jumbled car parts. Imagine the possibilities if the parts could actually find each other, arrange themselves properly and then self-assemble into little cars.

Though self-assembling vehicles remain fantasy, chemists at the State University of New York at Buffalo have carefully designed molecular subunits that automatically snap together into a "threaded molecular loop" and into more complex, oxygen-binding assemblies that the scientists hope to develop into the basis for artificial blood.

"The self-assembly process is a theme found throughout biology," notes project leader David S. Lawrence. In nature, enzymes, organs and even entire human beings self-assemble from smaller constituents. "It's a neat process in which all of the pieces find another, like a jigsaw puzzle coming together giving the correct picture."

In the April 25 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY, Lawrence and Tata Venkata S. Rao report making a four-piece, self-assembling complex. A long, flat molecule -- a diammonium salt with a central, hydrophobic (water-avoiding) region flanked by charged ammonium groups -- serves as a template for the complex. One end of the salt threads through the interior of a starch-like molecule called a cylodextrin, which looks likes an empty lampshade, until its hydrophobic center finds itself inside the molecular lampshade. …

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