New Biomedical Applications of Radiocarbon
The development of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) and its rapid application to radiocarbon detection produced a revolution in archaeology, earth science and oceanography for two primary reasons: the sample size required to achieve a reliable date was reduced by > 1000, permitting multiple dates and greater precision. Further, the detection (“machine”) background was reduced to less than the contaminations caused by sample preparation, thus greatly increasing the sensitivity for routine analysis. These increases in sensitivity and precision have had qualitative, as well as quantitative effects on these disciplines. For similar reasons, considerable impact upon biomedical science was predicted, but not tested until recently. Radiocarbon is the premier tracer for following many biological reaction pathways. Radiocarbon is non-labile in many organic molecules, unlike tritium, and may be placed in specific sites with known binding properties. Unlike many other substitutional tracers, 14C does not distort the structure of the host molecule. At the concentrations one can easily predict for AMS analyses, the danger of radiolytic perturbation of the biochemistry under study is essentially zero. Similarly, the radiation dose to the host organism from decay of 14C is negligible in design of an experiment.
KeywordsBiological Trace Element Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Tandem Accelerator
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