A brief introduction on NMR and discovery of anti-bone-shattering ‘goo’

The Nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer is a tool used to identify the structure of organic compounds. This machine utilizes a phenomenon that occurs in atoms to produce data, nuclei spin. A Nucleus can have integral spin, fractional spin or no spin; the spinning charge of fractional spin atoms (the most common are 1H, 13C, 9F, 31P) generates a magnetic field, which can be affected by applying an external magnetic field. This causes the spin to stop and the nuclei to align, separating two different energy levels. Some nuclei align with the external field (lower energy level) and the others opposing the external magnetic field (higher energy level).
To obtain a NMR spectrum, the continuous wave method can be used as follows:
• A solution of the sample poured in an uniform 5mm glass tube.
• Glass tube oriented between poles of powerful magnet.
• Solution spun to average any magnetic field variations and tube imperfections.
• A suitable freq. of radio frequency radiation is broadcast in sample from antenna coil.
• The emission of absorbed radio frequency monitored by receiver coil surrounding tube.
• Resonance signals appear. [1]

Scientists from the University of Cambridge have discovered that bones do not usually shatter when broken due to natural ‘goo’ which is trapped between the tiny mineral crystals that form our bones. This goo is made from citrate and water, creating a viscous fluid that functions like a lubricant on the nano-scale, conferring some flexibility to the plates. The goo acts as a shock absorber at a microscopic level, keeping the crystals flat, it facilitates the plate-like structures to slide over each other, preventing them to collapse.
NMR spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction were the techniques used to make this incredible discovery. The citrate in the goo helps the bones crystals to stay separated but also in a compact structure, ensuring an effective structure that prevents more complicated injuries.
This new knowledge will help improve treatment of conditions where bones are more likely to shatter. For example, in osteoporosis bones become weakened and less flexible, leading to a higher chance of bone fracture resulting a minor fall or a sudden impact. [3] This is due to the degrading – with age – of the protein mesh covering the bones, which causes excess calcium to leak out and reacting with phosphate to create lumps of brittle crystal. Researchers could find ways to use citrate to inhibit the degrading of bones and strengthening them. [2]

[1] https://www2.chemistry.msu.edu/faculty/reusch/virttxtjml/spectrpy/nmr/nmr1.htm
[2] www_independent_co_uk-news-science-scientists-discover-a-natural-goo-in-bones-that-stops-them-from-shattering-9217008_html.pdf
[3] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Osteoporosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx
[PIC1] https://sites.duke.edu/nmrcenter/files/2013/05/IMG_4436.jpg
[PIC2] http://bjj.boneandjoint.org.uk/content/jbjsbr/87-B/11/1556/F1.large.jpg


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