Water forms superstructure around DNA, new study shows

"The techniques we have developed provide a new avenue to study DNA hydration, as well as other supramolecular chiral structures," researcher Poul Petersen said.
By Brooks Hays   |   May 25, 2017 at 10:21 AM
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May 25 (UPI) -- New research has allowed scientists to detail the relationship between water molecules and DNA, a breakthrough for biochemistry.

The adult human body is 60 percent water. It's essential. But how water interacts with biological systems isn't always clear. The latest study -- published in the American Chemical Society journal Central Science -- promises to illuminate water's biochemical importance.

"If you want to understand reactivity and biology, then it's not just water on its own," Poul Petersen, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University, said in a news release. "You want to understand water around stuff, and how it interacts with the stuff. And particularly with biology, you want to understand how it behaves around biological material -- like protein and DNA."

Using a novel imaging technique, Petersen and his colleagues discovered a superstructure of water molecules surrounding DNA. Researchers dubbed the structure "DNA's chiral spine of hydration."

Chirality is a type of asymmetry. Chiral patterns can be distinguished from their mirror image. Most biomolecules are chiral.

The imaging method developed by Petersen and his research partners is called chiral sum frequency generation spectroscopy, or SFG. The method involves a pair of photon beams, one infrared and one visible, trained on a target sample. The converged beams produce an SFG beam, which can be manipulated to reveal the structures of water molecules.

"The techniques we have developed provide a new avenue to study DNA hydration, as well as other supramolecular chiral structures," Petersen said.

Researchers say their discovery of DNA's chiral spine of hydration is less revelatory than their breakthrough imaging technique, which will allow scientists to observe the function of water in a variety of biological systems.

"Certainly, chemical engineers who are designing biomimetic systems and looking at biology and trying to find applications such as water filtration would care about this," Petersen said.

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