Chemists have uncovered the secret of "self-assembly" of complex molecules of proteins and DNA

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that a small amount

organic anion (an ion with a negativecharge) placed in a solution with polymer chains triggers the formation of large and complex molecules. This discovery explains how many elements of living cells are formed, including the self-assembly of individual membraneless organelles.

Scientists believed that charged polymer chainscomposed of smaller, uniformly charged units. Such circuits are called polyelectrolytes. They are well studied and show a predictable nature of self-organization. For example, in water they will repel each other because objects with the same charge do not like to be close to each other. If you add salt to water containing polyelectrolytes, the molecules will coil up because the electrical repulsion of the chains is shielded by the salt.

In the new work, scientists have shown that if in the samethe solution will contain a small amount of organic anions (particles with a negative charge), then the whole system will change. The addition of such elements leads to the formation of dipoles.

The attraction between the dipoles of several macromolecules leads to their assembly into complex structures. Image: Shibananda Das

Unlike other molecules that may haveeither positive or negative charge, dipoles have both. This means that polymers made up of dipoles behave very differently from the more familiar polyelectrolytes, the scientists explain. Experiments have shown that they expand in saline and can cross-link with other dipole polymer chains, which then leads to the formation of complex structures.

Scientists have shown that dipolar polymers are capable ofform complex, self-regulating structures that can be used in everything from drug delivery systems to next-generation polymers. Researchers believe that these molecules play a key role in almost all biological assembly processes, such as the spontaneous birth of membraneless organelles within cells.

Significance of discovering that dipoles governassembly of polymers is enormous, because it sheds light on one of the fundamental mysteries of life processes: how biological materials can self-assemble into coherent, stable structures.

Murugappan Muthukumar, professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and co-author of the paper

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