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Purdue scientists see biochemistry's future - with quantum physics

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Chemists who have trouble predicting how some large, complex biological molecules will react with others may soon have a solution from the world of computational quantum physics, say Purdue University researchers.

Using powerful supercomputers to analyze the interplay of the dozens of electrons that whirl in clouds about these molecules, a team of physicists led by Purdue's Jorge H. Rodriguez has found that the quantum property of electrons called "spin" needs to be considered to obtain a complete and fundamental picture of how many biochemical reactions take place. In particular, a class of metal-based proteins that includes hemoglobin and chlorophyll, and their reactions in plants and animals, can be better understood with the technique.

Not only will this discovery sharpen our basic knowledge of biology, Rodriguez said, but it also could help scientists with a number of practical problems - such as selecting the best potential new drug compounds from a vast group of candidates, a process that can cost pharmaceutical companies years of work and millions of dollars.

"Whereas we have had to be satisfied with observing the chemistry in living things and describing it afterward without complete understanding, we are developing computational tools that can predict what will happen between molecules before they meet in the test tube," said Rodriguez, who is an assistant professor of physics in Purdue's College of Science. "Not only does this research open up a new field of science that reveals how metalloproteins and their constituent particles interact, but the quantum theory behind it also should allow us to model and predict these behaviors accurately with computer simulation alone. It is an example of how much can be accomplished with interdisciplinary science."

Rodriguez is pioneering a new field he calls "quantum biochemistry" - a field that involves both biochemistry and particle physics, which are often cited a
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Contact: Chad Boutin
cboutin@purdue.edu
765-494-2081
Purdue University
15-Sep-2005


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