Taking inspiration from the human immune system, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have created a new material that can be programmed to identify an endless variety of molecules. The new material resembles tiny sheets of Velcro, each just one-hundred nanometers across. But instead of securing your sneakers, this molecular Velcro mimics the way natural antibodies recognize viruses and toxins, and could lead to a new class of biosensors.
"Antibodies have a really effective architectural design: a structural scaffold that pretty much stays the same, whether it's for snake venom or the common cold, and endlessly variable functional loops that bind foreign invaders," says Ron Zuckermann, a senior scientist at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry. "We've mimicked that here, with a two-dimensional nanosheet scaffold covered with little functional loops like Velcro."
Zuckermann, Director of the Molecular Foundry's Biological Nanostructures Facility, is corresponding author on a paper reporting these results in ACS Nano, titled "Antibody-Mimetic Peptoid Nanosheets for Molecular Recognition." Coauthoring the paper are Gloria K. Olivier, Andrew Cho, Babak Sanii, Michael D. Connolly, and Helen Tran.
Zuckermann's nanosheet scaffolds are self-assembled from peptoids synthetic, bio-inspired polymers capable of folding into protein-like architectures. Like beads on a string, each peptoid molecule is a long chain of small molecular units arranged in a specific pattern. In earlier work, Zuckermann showed how certain simple peptoids can fold themselves into nanosheets just a few nanometers thick but up to one-hundred micrometers across dimensions equivalent to a one-millimeter-thick plastic sheet the size of a football field.
"The reason that nanosheets form is because there's a code for it programmed directly into the peptoids," says Zuckermann. "In this case it's admitt
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DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory