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Protons on the move find novel molecular route

Experiment reveals new pathway for hydrogen traveling between molecules

6:08pm, March 26, 2012

Some take the road less traveled. Hydrogen atoms can take roads not previously known to exist.

The lone proton — the nucleus of a common hydrogen atom — typically uses a single road — the hydrogen bond — to get from one molecule to another. But now researchers report such a proton traveling to another molecule by different means.

The implications of the new route, described online March 18 in Nature Chemistry, aren’t clear. But scientists are certain that they’ve never seen it before.

“This paper is interesting and important because hydrogen bonding is so ubiquitous and involved in so many things,” says electrophysiologist Tom DeCoursey of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Proton transfer is crucial for many processes in biology, such as photosynthesis, DeCoursey notes. “But I don’t see a direct tie-in with biological systems,” he says of the new research. “Where this might actually take place is another thing.”

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