When we look to our future energy resources, the need to realise new means of renewable energy is immediately obvious. Much research is being carried out around the world into the development of systems that can generate energy – from H2 to biofuels to solar fuels – all of which place great importance on high efficiency and sustainability.
Looking at the world around us for inspiration, the obvious candidate is the photosynthetic process, where visible light is employed to convert CO2 and H2O into chemical energy. This process involves the transport of electrons through a complex series of intricately aligned porphyrin-related and protein biomolecules. We can explore the development of a system that mimics the behaviour of natural systems, with respect to the relay of electrons along a series of molecules, or, alternatively, we can take the components in these systems and exploit their properties in combination with other electronically-active but non-natural molecules.
It is the latter approach which Lisa Utschig and her team from Argonne National Laboratory, near Chicago in the US, employed to generate a molecular system capable of photocatalysing the production of hydrogen. In their biohybrid system, the photosensitiser ruthenium(II) tris(bipyridine), ferredoxin (a water-soluble electron transfer protein), and cobaloxime (a cobalt(II)-based catalyst), were combined to generate a miniature reaction center that mimics those which occur in biological systems. However, the Utschig group’s system has a smaller molecular weight, which allows for characterisation of the electronic processes that occur in the system.
Lisa and her colleagues found that the presence of ferredoxin in the catalytic system acted as a scaffold to stabilise the charge-separated state necessary for electron transfer and the desired production of H2. They also observed that the catalytic behaviour of the Ru(II)–Co(II) pair was only possible in the presence of ferredoxin, which acted to extend the lifetime of the otherwise transient Co(I), allowing the desired reaction to occur.
In order to fully understand and enhance the properties of the molecular systems developed to fulfil the increasing need for energy alternatives, we need to be able to probe the structure and processes that occur in the molecule; the use of smaller analogs to those that exist in nature offers a means by which to achieve this goal. The photoactivated catalyst discussed in this work is an important step forward in the development of an optimized system for use in solar fuel production.
Read this hot ChemComm article in full:
Aqueous light driven hydrogen production by a Ru–ferredoxin–Co biohybrid
S. R. Soltau, J. Niklas, P. D. Dahlberg, O. G. Poluektov, D. M. Tiede, K. L. Lulfort and L. M. Utschig
Chem. Commun., 2015, 51, 10628–10631
Anthea Blackburn is a guest web writer for Chemical Science. She hails originally from New Zealand, and is a recent graduate student of Northwestern University in the US, where she studied under the tutelage of Prof. Fraser Stoddart (a Scot. There, she exploited supramolecular chemistry to develop multidimensional systems and study the emergent properties that arise in these superstructures. When time and money allow, she is ambitiously attempting to visit all 50 US states.
The synthesis of tailor-made peptide chains represents a powerful tool for tuning the structure and properties of peptides, allowing for the development of analogues for medical, technological and synthetic purposes.
For example, the β-peptide is a synthetic peptide, which, in contrast to its naturally-occurring α-peptide analogue, is bonded through the β-carbon rather than the α-carbon. As a result of this seemingly small structural change, alterations in the peptide’s secondary structure and thermodynamic stability are observed.
Adding fluoride groups to peptide chains represents another way to alter and stabilise the folding structure through the presence of stronger hydrogen bonds and the introduction of fluorophilicity. This approach is generally employed for the addition of fluoride groups at ‘remote positions,’ spaced two or more methylene units from the peptide backbone. However, this method has less of an effect on the conformation of the peptide itself, and instead primarily influences the tertiary and quaternary self-aggregation of peptide chains, as a result of the fluorophilic effect of the functionalised peptide chains.
Much less commonly studied is the effect of incorporating fluorine groups in ‘direct proximity’ to the peptide chain, that is, directly attached to the β-carbon, where it is proposed that the intramolecular hydrogen bonding will be directly affected, and consequently, so too will the secondary structure of the peptide chain.
Yasuhiro Ishida and co-workers from the RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science have shown that this ‘direct’ fluorination of β-peptides can, in fact, affect the higher order structures of these peptide chains. Specifically, a hexameric β-peptide was designed, which consisted of cyclohexane-based β-amino acids in the 1-,3-,4- and 6-positions and L-alanine derivatives in the 2- and 5-positions, where the L-alanine methyl groups were either native or perfluorinated.
Irrespective of the degree of perfluorination in the β-peptide, it was found that the chains were arranged in the same left-handed 14-helix structure, with the NH-amide of the second and fifth residues participating in stabilising intramolecular H-bonding interactions. Moreover, it was found that although the presence of fluoride groups did not noticeably alter the overall secondary structure of the β-peptide chains, the stability of these structures was dramatically enhanced, showing the significant effect that fluoride groups can have on the hydrogen-bond donating ability of NH-amides.
This new approach of modifying peptide chains offers an interesting method for influencing the secondary, and higher order, structures of the compounds, as well as their kinetic and thermodynamic properties. The effect of these structural modifications offers the possibility of tuning the chemical and biological properties of these peptide chains for use in new types of antibiotics and synthetic systems.
Read this HOT ChemComm article in full!
Stabilization of β-peptide helices by direct attachment of trifluoromethyl groups to peptide backbones
Joonil Cho, Kyohei Sawaki, Shinya Hanashima, Yoshiki Yamaguchi, Motoo Shiro, Kazuhiko Saigo and Yasuhiro Ishida
Chem. Commun., 2014, 50, 9855–9858.
About the Writer
Anthea Blackburn is a guest web writer for Chemical Communications. Anthea is a graduate student hailing from New Zealand, studying at Northwestern University in the US under the tutelage of Prof. Fraser Stoddart (a Scot), where she is exploiting supramolecular chemistry to develop multidimensional systems and study the emergent properties that arise in these superstructures. When time and money allow, she is ambitiously attempting to visit all 50 US states before graduation.