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Sweet semiconductor snags bacteria.

Sweet semiconductor snags bacteria

Sugar does a lot more than sweeten your coffee. A diverse cast of sugar molecules play pivotal roles in virtually all cellular functions, including metabolism and reproduction. Cellular, bacterial and viral surfaces also don sugar polymers, or polysaccharides, which perform many functions in biochemical communications.

Chemist Mark D. Bednarski and his co-workers at the Lawrence Berkeley (Calif.) Laboratory are now commandeering sugar-manipulating enzymes to assemble laboratory-modified sugar components into new polysaccharides. "We want to combine both chemical and enzymatic methids to custom-design polysaccharide-based materials," Bednarski says. Their goals include using the materials in biosensors that detect specific microbes even in complex biological fluids.

In one project, the researchers use the cellular enzyme glycogen phosphorylase -- which normally liberates glucose units from huge, energy-storing starch molecules called glycogen when the cell needs more fuel--to run the reaction in reverse using a laboratory-made glucose derivative. The result: a polysaccharide built of enzyme-inked, fluorine-containing sugar units. The fluorine atoms should serve as accessible sites for a variety of subsequent chemical modifications, they say.

In another project, the researchers first attach long carbohydrate chains to cyclic sugar molecules and then chemically tether the sugar-tipped assemblies to silicon and other semiconducting surfaces. They hope to use the initial sugar coating as a foundation for building more complex chemical layers. Bednarski says the group now is using these principles to develop a new class of biosensors riddled with chemical structures that serve as specific receptors to detect viruses or bacteria such as Salmonella.
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Author:Amato, Ivan
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 16, 1989
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