Visualizing Single-molecules: Breakthrough In Treating Incurable Diseases
Visualizing Single-molecules: Breakthrough In Treating Incurable Diseases
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  • 승인 2022.09.14 20:11
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▲A single-molecule trapped between the gold film and aluminum oxide layer being observed
▲A single-molecule trapped between the gold film and aluminum oxide layer being observed

A research team led by Professor Park Kyoung-duck of the Department of Physics (PHYS) and Kang Min-gu (PHYS Ph.D. Candidate) conducted a joint study with Prof. Suh Yung Doug of the Department of Chemistry at UNIST, and succeeded in visualizing a single-molecule’s conformational heterogeneity (structural variation) at room temperature (RT) for the first time. It is now possible to investigate the conformation of a single-molecule which is the basic unit of all matter. 
A single-molecule about 1 nanometer (nm, billionth of a meter) in size is very unstable at RT. The fast diffusion of Coronavirus which is about 100 nm in size shows how difficult it is to observe a single-molecule. However, the team figured out a way to stably detect individual molecules at RT by covering the molecules with a thin insulating layer, like a ‘blanket’. 
Each molecule has intrinsic vibration modes, which means the molecular structure can be inferred by shooting light at it and observing the scattering of the light. Molecular characteristics are understood by detecting this Raman scattering, but molecules in the air undergo continuous chemical reactions and motion. It interferes with in-depth analysis, and still limits investigating the natural properties of a single-molecule despite ultracold (below -200 °C) and vacuum conditions. 
The team dispersed brilliant cresyl blue (BCB) molecules on a substrate coated with thin gold film and immobilized the molecules by covering them with a very thin aluminum oxide (Al2O3) layer. Molecules were trapped between these two layers and isolated from the surrounding environment, having their chemical reactions and motions restrained. 
Mr. Kang commented, “While James Webb Space Telescope observes the farthest point of the observable universe, revealing the origin of the universe, our team’s microscope observes the smallest matter, revealing the origin of life”. 
Through this research, pathogenic protein or DNA molecular conformation can be observed at a nanometer level. This important research holds the clue to identifying the causes of incurable diseases and developing treatments for incurable diseases. Moreover, this method is very simple and can be applied at RT or even high temperatures, so the prospects for its application are endless. 
Prof. Geunsik Lee at UNIST, Researchers Elham Oleiki · Joo Huitae, Hyunwoo Kim · Taeyong Eom from the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology, and Yeonjeong Koo · Hyeongwoo Lee (PHYS Ph.D. Candidate) and others participated in this study. This research, recently published in the international journal, Nature Communications, was funded by the National Research Foundation of Korea.