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Proteins: Structure, Function and Bioinformatics 87, 176-184 (2019)

ISSN: 1097-0134, SCI

The elixir phase of chain molecules

Tatjana Škrbić, Trinh X. Hoang, Amos Maritan, Jayanth R. Banavar, Achille Giacometti

A phase of matter is a familiar notion for inanimate physical matter. The nature of a phase of matter transcends the microscopic material properties. For example, materials in the liquid phase have certain common properties independent of the chemistry of the constituents: liquids take the shape of the container; they flow; and they can be poured—alcohol, oil, and water as well as a Lennard-Jones computer model exhibit similar behavior when poised in the liquid phase. Here, we identify a hitherto unstudied “phase” of matter, the elixir phase, in a simple model of a polymeric chain whose backbone has the correct local cylindrical symmetry induced by the tangent to the chain. The elixir phase appears on breaking the cylindrical symmetry by adding side spheres along the negative normal direction, as in proteins. This phase, nestled between other phases, has multiple ground states made up of building blocks of helices and almost planar sheets akin to protein native folds. We discuss the similarities of this “phase” of a finite size system to the liquid crystal and spin glass phases. Our findings are relevant for understanding proteins; the creation of novel bioinspired nanomachines; and also may have implications for life elsewhere in the cosmos.


DOI: 10.1002/prot.25619

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