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Researchers turn viruses into molecular Legos
Date:10/19/2011

Berkeley Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have turned a benign virus into an engineering tool for assembling structures that mimic collagen, one of the most important structural proteins in nature. The process they developed could eventually be used to manufacture materials with tunable optical, biomedical and mechanical properties.

The researchers, led by Seung-Wuk Lee, UC Berkeley associate professor of bioengineering and faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), describe their "self-templating material assembly" process in the Oct. 20 issue of the journal Nature.

"We took our inspiration from nature," said Lee. "Nature has a unique ability to create functional materials from very basic building blocks. We found a way to mimic the formation of diverse, complex structures from helical macromolecules, such as collagen, chitin and cellulose, which are the primary building blocks for a wide array of functional materials in animals and plants."

The blue-faced Mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx), for instance, derives its coloring not from pigment, but from the specific scattering of light formed when thin fibers of collagen are bundled, twisted and layered in its skin.

In contrast, aligning collagen in a perpendicular, grid-like pattern creates transparency, and is the basis of corneal tissue. And corkscrew-shaped fibers, mineralized after interacting with calcium and phosphate, can generate the hardest parts of our body: bones and teeth.

"The basic building block for all of these functional materials corneas, skin and teeth is exactly the same. It's collagen," said Lee. "I was mesmerized when I saw the brilliant skin color and sharp teeth of blue-faced monkeys at the San Francisco Zoo. It is stunning that the way the collagen fibers are aligned, twisted and shaped determine their optical and mechanical functions. What had not been well understood, however, i
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Contact: Sarah Yang
scyang@berkeley.edu
510-643-7741
University of California - Berkeley
Source:Eurekalert  

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