Designer Molecules Can Trap Nerve Agents

December
2018

Chemists at the Ohio State Univ. (OSU) have developed designer molecules with the potential to trap harmful insecticides, pesticides, and even fatal nerve agents such as sarin gas in the environment as well as in the human body.

The molecules consist of a hydrocarbon framework shaped like a basket — three arms extend from the base and three glutamic acids are distributed randomly around the tops of the arms. The researchers produced the basket through the condensation of tris-anhydride, an organic acid, and (S)-glutamic acid in dimethyl sulfoxide, which is a polar solvent.

The scientists placed the basket into an aqueous environment containing a compound that mimics a nerve agent. For their safety, they did not use the nerve agent itself.

The amino acids bound the chemicals and guided them into the basket. Exposure to UV light caused the structure to shed three carboxylate groups from its amino acid residues and fold its arms inward, trapping the toxic compounds within the molecular basket.

The decarboxylated basket containing the nerve agent is insoluble in water, so the researchers were able to filter the precipitate from solution, leaving behind purified water and proving that they can...

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