Monday, February 14, 2011

Less is more

In the spirit of maintaining continuity (do some folks really look at this site every week, as I’m told?), I will aim to post more regularly rather than exhaustively. That’s to say, this is not a complete list for what I’ve seen out there, but more will follow soon.

Sheh-Yi Sheu at National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan and Dah-Yen Yang at the Institute for Molecular Science in Okazaki, Japan, present a method for deducing the free energy of the hydration shell for a biomolecule from simulations (J. Phys. Chem. B 10.1021/jp105164t – paper here). They say that water in a protein (here myoglobin) hydration shell follows fractional Brownian motion.

Flavoproteins are electron-transfer proteins involved in a range of biological processes, including cell apoptosis and DNA repair. The nature of solvation at the active sites is of central importance for their function. Dongping Zhong and colleagues at Ohio State have used ultrafast spectroscopy to characterize the dynamics of the water network at the functional site in three redox stats of a representative flavoprotein, flavodoxin (C.-W. Chang et al., JACS 192, 12741 (2010) – paper here). Rather neatly, they are able to use the intrinsic cofactor of this protein as the fluorescent probe for the experiments. They can monitor changes in the relaxation and rigidity of the local water network between the different states, for example a retardation of the relaxation from around 2.6 to 40 ps between the oxidized to semiquinone state. They propose an intimate and biologically relevant coupling between the flexibility of the solvation network and the protein.

Gating of ion channels due to cooperative drying has been suggested as the underlying mechanism for such functions. Fangqiang Zhu and Gerhard Hummer at NIH explore this notion for the ligand-gated ion channel GLIC of the bacterium G. violaceus, for which the crystal structure of the open state is solved (PNAS 107, 19814; 2010 – paper here). They find that the pore is typically water-filled in the open state, but that a very small decrease in the channel radius can induce cooperative drying. It seems that the emptying of the pore is a response to, rather than the driving force for, changes in the pore width.

Alla Oleinikova, Ivan Brovchenko and their colleague G. Singh at Dortmund have calculated the heat capacity of hydration water of hydrophobic and hydrophilic peptides from simulations (A. Oleinikova et al., Europhys. Lett. 90, 36001; 2010 – paper here). They say that around 330 K there is a sharp change in structure from a percolating to a fragmented H-bonded network, and that this coincides with a point at which the heat capacity changes from being dominated by water interactions within the hydration shell to a situation where the hydration-shell-to bulk interactions are more important. At this stage, the ‘detachment’ of the hydration network from the peptide in effect makes the biomolecule more hydrophobic.

Anrew White and Shaoyi Jiang at the University of Washington have studied the hydration of glycine and two (zwitterionic) analogues di- and trimethylglycine using MD (J. Phys. Chem. B 115, 660; 2011 – paper here). They say that all three molecules affect the water structure out to the second hydration shell, but trimethylglycine has the greatest (retarding) effect on water dynamics and, perhaps surprisingly, does not aggregate but remains well solvated even at high concentrations. This might help to account for trimethylglycine’s antifouling properties and its suppression of protein aggregation.

There is sill a tussle going on about whether bulk water at ambient temperatures is best considered in a homogeneous or two-phase framework. Lars Pettersson and Anders Nilsson have recently teamed up with theorists including Jens Norskov at Stanford to perform ab initio MD calculations which point to a mixture of low- and high-density regions at ambient conditions (A Møgelhøj et al., arxiv preprint 1101.5666; paper here). But Niall English and John Tse dispute this, saying that such inhomogeneities are of very short range and transient, being just the ordinary density fluctuations one would expect to see in an equilibrium system (Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 037801; 2011 – paper here).

Raymond Dagastine and colleagues at the University of Melbourne report a very striking claim: that air bubbles interact with (probably virtually all) solid surfaces via a repulsive van der Waals interaction (R. F. Tabor et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 064501; 2011 – paper here). As a bubble approaches a surface under hydrodynamic flow, they say, it will therefore start to deform and flatten at the point where the repulsive force equals the Laplace pressure. Repulsive vdW forces are well known in theory, but it seemed previously that rather special combinations of materials were needed to realise them.

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