SciCombinator

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Concept: Crystal

694

Poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) is one of the most abundantly produced synthetic polymers and is accumulating in the environment at a staggering rate as discarded packaging and textiles. The properties that make PET so useful also endow it with an alarming resistance to biodegradation, likely lasting centuries in the environment. Our collective reliance on PET and other plastics means that this buildup will continue unless solutions are found. Recently, a newly discovered bacterium, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, was shown to exhibit the rare ability to grow on PET as a major carbon and energy source. Central to its PET biodegradation capability is a secreted PETase (PET-digesting enzyme). Here, we present a 0.92 Å resolution X-ray crystal structure of PETase, which reveals features common to both cutinases and lipases. PETase retains the ancestral α/β-hydrolase fold but exhibits a more open active-site cleft than homologous cutinases. By narrowing the binding cleft via mutation of two active-site residues to conserved amino acids in cutinases, we surprisingly observe improved PET degradation, suggesting that PETase is not fully optimized for crystalline PET degradation, despite presumably evolving in a PET-rich environment. Additionally, we show that PETase degrades another semiaromatic polyester, polyethylene-2,5-furandicarboxylate (PEF), which is an emerging, bioderived PET replacement with improved barrier properties. In contrast, PETase does not degrade aliphatic polyesters, suggesting that it is generally an aromatic polyesterase. These findings suggest that additional protein engineering to increase PETase performance is realistic and highlight the need for further developments of structure/activity relationships for biodegradation of synthetic polyesters.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Evolution, Amino acid, Crystal, Polymer, Materials science, Polyester

284

Evidence of life on Earth is manifestly preserved in the rock record. However, the microfossil record only extends to ∼3.5 billion years (Ga), the chemofossil record arguably to ∼3.8 Ga, and the rock record to 4.0 Ga. Detrital zircons from Jack Hills, Western Australia range in age up to nearly 4.4 Ga. From a population of over 10,000 Jack Hills zircons, we identified one >3.8-Ga zircon that contains primary graphite inclusions. Here, we report carbon isotopic measurements on these inclusions in a concordant, 4.10 ± 0.01-Ga zircon. We interpret these inclusions as primary due to their enclosure in a crack-free host as shown by transmission X-ray microscopy and their crystal habit. Their δ(13)CPDB of -24 ± 5‰ is consistent with a biogenic origin and may be evidence that a terrestrial biosphere had emerged by 4.1 Ga, or ∼300 My earlier than has been previously proposed.

Concepts: Crystal, Earth, Carbon, X-ray microscope, Jack Hills, Zircon, Biosphere

217

The attenuation of sedimentation and convection in microgravity can sometimes decrease irregularities formed during macromolecular crystal growth. Current terrestrial protein crystal growth (PCG) capabilities are very different than those used during the Shuttle era and that are currently on the International Space Station (ISS). The focus of this experiment was to demonstrate the use of a commercial off-the-shelf, high throughput, PCG method in microgravity. Using Protein BioSolutions' microfluidic Plug Maker™/CrystalCard™ system, we tested the ability to grow crystals of the regulator of glucose metabolism and adipogenesis: peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (apo-hPPAR-γ LBD), as well as several PCG standards. Overall, we sent 25 CrystalCards™ to the ISS, containing ~10,000 individual microgravity PCG experiments in a 3U NanoRacks NanoLab (1U = 10(3) cm.). After 70 days on the ISS, our samples were returned with 16 of 25 (64%) microgravity cards having crystals, compared to 12 of 25 (48%) of the ground controls. Encouragingly, there were more apo-hPPAR-γ LBD crystals in the microgravity PCG cards than the 1g controls. These positive results hope to introduce the use of the PCG standard of low sample volume and large experimental density to the microgravity environment and provide new opportunities for macromolecular samples that may crystallize poorly in standard laboratories.

Concepts: Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor, Crystal, Chemistry, Experiment, Biochemistry, Crystallization, International Space Station, Micro-g environment

185

Murine noroviruses have emerged as a valuable tool for investigating the molecular basis of infection and pathogenesis of the closely related human noroviruses, which are the major cause of non-bacterial gastroenteritis. The replication of noroviruses relies on the proteolytic processing of a large polyprotein precursor into six non-structural proteins (NS1-2, NS3, NS4, NS5, NS6(pro), NS7(pol)) by the virally-encoded NS6 protease. We report here the crystal structure of MNV NS6(pro), which has been determined to a resolution of 1.6 Å. Adventitiously, the crystal contacts are mediated in part by the binding of the C-terminus of NS6(pro) within the peptide-binding cleft of a neighbouring molecule. This insertion occurs for both molecules in the asymmetric unit of the crystal in a manner that is consistent with physiologically-relevant binding, thereby providing two independent views of a protease-peptide complex. Since the NS6(pro) C-terminus is formed in vivo by NS6(pro) processing, these crystal contacts replicate the protease-product complex that is formed immediately following cleavage of the peptide bond at the NS6-NS7 junction. The observed mode of binding of the C-terminal product peptide yields new insights into the structural basis of NS6(pro) specificity.

Concepts: Scientific method, Protein, Amino acid, Crystal, Molecule, Atom, Norovirus, Mineralogy

179

Globally ordered colloidal crystal lattices have broad utility in a wide range of optical and catalytic devices, for example, as photonic bandgap materials. However, the self-assembly of stereospecific structures is often confounded by polymorphism. Small free energy differences often characterize ensembles of different structures, making it difficult to produce a single morphology at will. Current techniques to handle this problem adopt one of two approaches: that of the “top-down,” or “bottom-up” methodology, whereby structures are engineered starting from the largest or smallest relevant length scales, respectively. However, recently a third approach for directing high fidelity assembly of colloidal crystals has been suggested which relies on the introduction of polymer co-solutes into the crystal phase [N. A. Mahynski, A. Z. Panagiotopoulos, D. Meng, S. K. Kumar, Nat. Commun., 2014, 5, 4472]. By tuning the polymer’s morphology to interact uniquely with the void symmetry of a single desired crystal, the entropy loss associated with polymer confinement has been shown to strongly bias the formation of that phase. However, previously this approach has only been demonstrated in the limiting case of close-packed crystals. Here we show how this approach may be generalized and extended to complex open crystals, illustrating the utility of this “structure-directing agent” paradigm in engineering the nanoscale structure of ordered colloidal materials. The high degree of transferability of this paradigm’s basic principles between relatively simple crystals and more complex ones suggests this represents a valuable addition to presently known self-assembly techniques.

Concepts: Crystal, Crystal structure, Condensed matter physics, Sol-gel, Materials science, Colloidal crystal, Photonic crystal, Crystals

175

The potential of thermoelectric materials to generate electricity from the waste heat can play a key role in achieving a global sustainable energy future. In order to proceed in this direction, it is essential to have thermoelectric materials that are environmentally friendly and exhibit high figure of merit, ZT. Oxide thermoelectric materials are considered ideal for such applications. High thermoelectric performance has been reported in single crystals of Ca3Co4O9. However, for large scale applications single crystals are not suitable and it is essential to develop high-performance polycrystalline thermoelectric materials. In polycrystalline form, Ca3Co4O9 is known to exhibit much weaker thermoelectric response than in single crystal form. Here, we report the observation of enhanced thermoelectric response in polycrystalline Ca3Co4O9 on doping Tb ions in the material. Polycrystalline Ca3-xTbxCo4O9 (x = 0.0-0.7) samples were prepared by a solid-state reaction technique. Samples were thoroughly characterized using several state of the art techniques including XRD, TEM, SEM and XPS. Temperature dependent Seebeck coefficient, electrical resistivity and thermal conductivity measurements were performed. A record ZT of 0.74 at 800 K was observed for Tb doped Ca3Co4O9 which is the highest value observed till date in any polycrystalline sample of this system.

Concepts: Crystal, Heat, Silicon, Solid, Materials science, Electrical conductivity, Thermoelectric effect, Crystallite

174

Crystallization of noble metal atoms usually leads to the highly symmetric face-centred cubic phase that represents the thermodynamically stable structure. Introducing defective microstructures into a metal crystal lattice may induce distortions to form non-face-centered cubic phases when the lateral dimensions of objects decrease down to nanometre scale. However, stable non-face-centered cubic phases have not been reported in noble metal nanoparticles. Here we report that a stable body-centred tetragonal phase is observed in silver nanoparticles with fivefold twinning even at ambient conditions. The body-centered tetragonal phase originates from the distortion of cubic silver lattices due to internal strains in the twinned nanoparticles. The lattice distortion in the centre of such a nanoparticle is larger than that in the surfaces, indicating that the nanoparticle is composed of a highly strained core encapsulated in a less-strained sheath that helps stabilize the strained core.

Concepts: Crystal, Crystallography, Nanomaterials, Gold, Crystal system, Atomic packing factor, Reciprocal lattice, Diamond cubic

169

The salient feature of liquid crystal elastomers and networks is strong coupling between orientational order and mechanical strain. Orientational order can be changed by a wide variety of stimuli, including the presence of moisture. Changes in the orientation of constituents give rise to stresses and strains, which result in changes in sample shape. We have utilized this effect to build soft cellulose-based motor driven by humidity. The motor consists of a circular loop of cellulose film, which passes over two wheels. When humid air is present near one of the wheels on one side of the film, with drier air elsewhere, rotation of the wheels results. As the wheels rotate, the humid film dries. The motor runs so long as the difference in humidity is maintained. Our cellulose liquid crystal motor thus extracts mechanical work from a difference in humidity.

Concepts: Crystal, Soft matter, Orientation, Humidity, Liquid crystal, Rigid body, Evaporation, Building insulation

165

Organic-inorganic hybrid metal halide perovskites, an emerging class of solution processable photoactive materials, welcome a new member with a one-dimensional structure. Herein we report the synthesis, crystal structure and photophysical properties of one-dimensional organic lead bromide perovskites, C4N2H14PbBr4, in which the edge sharing octahedral lead bromide chains [PbBr4 (2-)]∞ are surrounded by the organic cations C4N2H14 (2+) to form the bulk assembly of core-shell quantum wires. This unique one-dimensional structure enables strong quantum confinement with the formation of self-trapped excited states that give efficient bluish white-light emissions with photoluminescence quantum efficiencies of approximately 20% for the bulk single crystals and 12% for the microscale crystals. This work verifies once again that one-dimensional systems are favourable for exciton self-trapping to produce highly efficient below-gap broadband luminescence, and opens up a new route towards superior light emitters based on bulk quantum materials.

Concepts: Crystal, Crystal structure, Quantum mechanics, Chemistry, Atom, Quantum dot, Solid, Materials science

141

Polymorphism, which describes the occurrence of different lattice structures in a crystalline material, is a critical phenomenon in materials science and condensed matter physics. Recently, configuration disorder was compositionally engineered into single lattices, leading to the discovery of high-entropy alloys and high-entropy oxides. For these novel entropy-stabilized forms of crystalline matter with extremely high structural stability, is polymorphism still possible? Here by employing in situ high-pressure synchrotron radiation X-ray diffraction, we reveal a polymorphic transition from face-centred-cubic (fcc) structure to hexagonal-close-packing (hcp) structure in the prototype CoCrFeMnNi high-entropy alloy. The transition is irreversible, and our in situ high-temperature synchrotron radiation X-ray diffraction experiments at different pressures of the retained hcp high-entropy alloy reveal that the fcc phase is a stable polymorph at high temperatures, while the hcp structure is more thermodynamically favourable at lower temperatures. As pressure is increased, the critical temperature for the hcp-to-fcc transformation also rises.

Concepts: Crystal, X-ray, Fundamental physics concepts, Physics, Condensed matter physics, Chemistry, Thermodynamics, Materials science