L-Alanine in a droplet of water: A density-functional molecular dynamics study
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We report the results of a Born-Oppenheimer molecular dynamics study on an L-alanine amino acid in neutral aqueous solution. The whole system, the L-alanine zwitterion and 50 water molecules, was treated quantum mechanically. We found that the hydrophobic side chain (R ) CH3) defines the trajectory path of the molecule. Initially fully hydrated in an isolated droplet of water, the amino acid moves to the droplet's surface, exposing its hydrophobic methyl group and R-hydrogen out of the water. The structure of an L-alanine with the methyl group exposed to the water surface was found to be energetically favorable compared to a fully hydrated molecule. The dynamic behavior of the system suggests that the first hydration shell of the amino acid is localized around carboxylate (CO2-) and ammonium (NH3+) functional groups; it is highly ordered and quite rigid. In contrast, the hydration shell around the side chain is much less structured, suggesting a modest influence of the methyl group on the structure of water. The number of water molecules in the first hydration shell of an alanine molecule is constantly changing; the average number was found to equal 7. The molecular dynamics results show that L-alanine in water does not have a preferred conformation, as all three of the molecule's functional sites (i.e., CH3, NH3 +, CO2-) perform rotational movements around the CR-site bond.
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