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Phys Rev Lett. 2006 Jun 30;96(25):258302. Epub 2006 Jun 28.

Chiral nematic phase of suspensions of rodlike viruses: left-handed phase helicity from a right-handed molecular helix.

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Dipartimento di Scienze Chimiche, Università di Padova, via Marzolo 1, 35131 Padova, Italy.


We report a study on charged, filamentous virus called M13, whose suspensions in water exhibit a chiral nematic (cholesteric) phase. In spite of the right-handed helicity of the virus, a left-handed phase helicity is found, with a cholesteric pitch which increases with temperature and ionic strength. Several sources of chirality can be devised in the system, ranging from the subnanometer to the micrometer length scale. Here an explanation is proposed for the microscopic origin of the cholesteric organization, which arises from the helical arrangement of coat proteins on the virus surface. The phase organization is explained as the result of the competition between contributions of opposite handedness, deriving from best packing of viral particles and electrostatic interparticle repulsions. This hypothesis is supported by calculations based on a coarse-grained representation of the virus.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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