While conducting an otherwise straightforward investigation into the assembly mechanism of calcium-phosphate clusters, researchers at UC Santa Barbara and New York University (NYU) made a surprising discovery: Phosphate ions in water have a curious habit of spontaneously alternating between their commonly encountered hydrated state and a mysterious, previously unreported ‘dark’ state. This recently uncovered behavior, they say, has implications for understanding the role of phosphate species in biocatalysis, cellular energy balance and the formation of biomaterials. Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Phosphate is everywhere,” said UCSB chemistry professor Songi Han, one of the authors of a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The ion consists of one phosphorus atom surrounded by four oxygen atoms. “It’s in our blood and in our serum,” Han continued. “It’s in every biologist’s buffer, it’s on our DNA and RNA.” It’s also a structural component of our bones and cell membranes, she added.