Harmony of the Self-Assembled Spheres

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Science  28 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5982, pp. 1115-1116
DOI: 10.1126/science.1190821

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Chemists conventionally assemble molecules stepwise in the laboratory, but nature often relies on self-assembly, especially when it comes to combining smaller subunits into amazingly complex architectures on the nanoscale. Tobacco mosaic virus is an inspiring example of self-assembly: 2130 identical protein subunits self-organize around a single strand of RNA to form the final helical structure of the virus (1). Weak but numerous noncovalent interactions direct assembly between individual subunits. These processes can be dynamic; in such cases, assembly is accompanied by disassembly and occurs at or near equilibrium. In general, these processes are not only rapid but are intrinsically self-correcting (2). On page 1144 of this issue, Sun et al. (3) report a step forward toward synthetic analogs of large-scale self-assembly in which metal ions and organic ligands self-assemble into giant coordination spheres with intriguing thermodynamic behavior and astonishing precision.