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Trehalose, commonly found in living organisms, is believed to help them survive severe environmental conditions, such as drought or extreme temperatures. With the aim of trying to understand these properties, two recent neutron scattering studies investigate the structure of trehalose water solutions but come to seemingly opposite conclusions. In the first study, which looks at two concentrations of trehalose-water mole ratios of 1:100 and 1:25, the conclusion is that trehalose hydrogen-bonds to water rather weakly and has a relatively minor impact on the structure of water in solution compared to bulk water. On the other hand, for the other, using a mole ratio of 1:38, the conclusion is that the water structure is rather substantially modified by the presence of trehalose and that the hydrogen bonding between water and trehalose hydroxyl groups is significant. In an attempt to try to understand the origin of these divergent views, which arise from similar but independent analyses of different neutron diffraction data, we have performed additional X-ray scattering experiments, which are highly sensitive to water structure, at the same trehalose-water concentrations used in the first study, and combined these with empirical potential structure refinement on the previously collected neutron data. The new analysis unequivocally confirms that trehalose does indeed have only a minor impact on the structure of water, at all three concentrations, and forms relatively weak hydrogen bonds with water. Far from being discrepant with the existing literature, our new analysis of the different datasets suggests a natural explanation for the increased glass-transition temperature of trehalose compared to other sugars and hence its enhanced effectiveness as a protectant against drought stress.

Original publication




Journal article


J Phys Chem B

Publication Date





7365 - 7374