Staff member publications
The processes related to the fixation of nitrogen in a catalyst able to produce glycine and alanine from a N2, CO2 and CH4 gas mixture at mild reaction conditions have been studied by combining experimental and theoretical investigations. Results have allowed to understand the role of different elements of the catalyst, which is constituted by permanently polarized hydroxyapatite (p-HAp), zirconia, and aminotris(methylenephosphonic acid) (ATMP). ATMP attracts N2 molecules towards the surface, maintaining them close to the zirconia and p-HAp components that are the most active from a catalytic point of view. On the other hand, the associative mechanism is thermodynamically favoured under mild reaction conditions with respect to the dissociative one, which is limited by the barrier associated to the Nsingle bondN bond cleavage. Because this reaction mechanism is similar to that employed in the nitrogen fixation by nitrogenase enzymes, these findings provide an opportunity to design new bioinspired catalysts.
JTD Keywords: Artificial photosynthesis, Carbon fixation, Hydroxyapatite, N[sbnd]N bond cleavage
Biominerals formed by DNA and calcium oxalate (CaOx) or hydroxyapatite (HAp), the most important and stable phase of calcium phosphate) have been examined and compared using a synergistic combination of computer simulation and experimental studies. The interest of this comparison stems from the medical observation that HAp- and CaOx-based microcalcifications are frequently observed in breast cancer tissues, and some of their features are used as part of the diagnosis. Molecular dynamics simulations show that (1) the DNA double helix remains stable when it is adsorbed onto the most stable facet of HAp, whereas it undergoes significant structural distortions when it is adsorbed onto CaOx; (2) DNA acts as a template for the nucleation and growth of HAp but not for the mineralization of CaOx; and (3) the DNA double helix remains stable when it is encapsulated inside HAp nanopores, but it becomes destabilized when the encapsulation occurs into CaOx nanopores. Furthermore, CaOx and HAp minerals containing DNA molecules inside and/or adsorbed on the surface have been prepared in the lab by mixing solutions containing the corresponding ions with fish sperm DNA. Characterization of the formed minerals, which has been focused on the identification of DNA using UV-vis spectroscopy, indicates that the tendency to adsorb and, especially, encapsulate DNA is much smaller for CaOx than for HAp, which is in perfect agreement with results from molecular dynamics simulations. Finally, quantum mechanical calculations have been performed to rationalize these results in terms of molecular interactions, evidencing the high affinity of Ca2+ toward oxalate anions in an aqueous environment.