‘Halogen bonding’: a new way to improve the performance of molecular machines

Posted on Friday, February 22, 2019

Microscope used to study molecules

Imagine a machine, a thousand times thinner than a strand of hair, designed to work inside the human body and capable of fighting cancer by delivering drugs directly to cancerous cells. This is but one of the promises that molecular machines hold, and PhD candidate Patrick Szell, undergraduate Scott Zablotny, and Professor David Bryce, researchers at the University of Ottawa’s Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences, have brought us one step closer to this futuristic possibility.

Molecular machines are built out of molecules with controllable movements and can perform a specific task when energy is added. Szell, Zablotny, and Bryce have discovered that molecular dynamics, an essential component to the functioning of these machines, could be controlled or improved through a special interaction with halogen atoms known as ‘halogen bonding’.

They were able to determine that halogen bonding plays a direct role as a catalyst in the movement of molecules by creating a series of chemical crystals and submitting them to magnetic resonance experiments akin to those used in MRI scanners. They then observed if specific parts of the molecules in the crystals were moving and what happened to them when particular chemical interactions were introduced.

“It was never considered possible that the halogen bonding interaction could influence the behaviour of molecular machines,” said Szell. “What is even more surprising and exciting is that the influence of this interaction actually facilitates motion, or dynamics, in the solid state.”

“Dynamics are not only central to molecular machines,” added Professor Bryce. “They also play key roles in enzymatic processes and have multiple implications in the fields of disease and health.”

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa for their work in developing some of the smallest machines ever created. Szell, Zablotny, and Bryce’s discovery, published in Nature Communications, pushes the study of molecular machines even further and the potential of halogen bonding has opened up exciting new avenues of research.


For more information:
Orian Labrèche
Media Relations Officer, University of Ottawa


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