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November 2013

Foundry Researchers Take Cues From Nature in Designing a Programmable Nanomaterial for Biosensing

Taking inspiration from the human immune system, researchers at the Molecular Foundry 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.

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, the research team 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. In addition to possible diagnostic and sensing applications, this work represents an important step toward extending the rules of protein folding to the world of synthetic materials.

Read the press release.