Emanuel Schneck, Ernesto Scoppola, Jakub Drnec, Cristian Mocuta, Roberto Felici, Dmitri Novikov, Giovanna Fragneto and Jean Daillant
PNAS, 34, 113(2016), pp 9521-9526
Publication year: 2016

In nature, biomolecules are often organized as functional thin layers in interfacial architectures, the most prominent examples being biological membranes. Biomolecular layers play also important roles in context with biotechnological surfaces, for instance, when they are the result of adsorption processes. For the understanding of many biological or biotechnologically relevant phenomena, detailed structural insight into the involved biomolecular layers is required. Here, we use standing-wave X-ray fluorescence (SWXF) to localize chemical elements in solid-supported lipid and protein layers with near-Ångstrom precision. The technique complements traditional specular reflectometry experiments that merely yield the layers’ global density profiles. While earlier work mostly focused on relatively heavy elements, typically metal ions, we show that it is also possible to determine the position of the comparatively light elements S and P, which are found in the most abundant classes of biomolecules and are therefore particularly important. With that, we overcome the need of artificial heavy atom labels, the main obstacle to a broader application of high-resolution SWXF in the fields of biology and soft matter. This work may thus constitute the basis for the label-free, element-specific structural investigation of complex biomolecular layers and biological surfaces.