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Purdue chemists 'put the twist' on protein building block

Zwier's group mixed gaseous tryptamine with helium, which was used to cool the molecules to very low temperatures. They then excited the tryptamine molecules with lasers, a technique which allowed them to add precisely controlled amounts of energy to the mix. The method allowed the group to accurately determine the energy required to give tryptamine any of its seven configurations.

"This work has a particular elegance," said Charles Pibel, program officer in the physical chemistry program at the National Science Foundation, which funded the group's research. "Though Dr. Zwier is using techniques that have been around for a few decades, he's using them in innovative ways. This work will appeal to lots of physical chemists for that reason."

The appeal to industry is not as obvious as it might be to fundamental research, but Zwier said that there is potential for the work to inspire new approaches to problems confronting computer data storage.

"In tryptamine, we have a molecule that has seven different possible conformations - each of which could be viewed as a piece of information that could be changed with the application of light," he said. "In principle, a larger molecule with far more conformations could be used to store vast amounts of information. I doubt tryptamine itself will prove to be the foundation of a new storage technology, but our experiment demonstrates a principle that could be applied to other molecules better suited to the job."

Zwier also speculated that tryptamine's chemical similarity to serotonin and other mood-related substances could lead to new basic knowledge about their function in the brain.

"For serotonin to bond to its receptor in the brain, it must change configuration," he said. "More precise knowledge of the energy it must take from its environment could contribute to a better understanding of how serotonin binding in the brain leads to a change
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Contact: Chad Boutin
cboutin@purdue.edu
765-494-2081
Purdue University
25-Feb-2004


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