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August 2012

S-layer Formation: Trapped in the Middle

Top: Schematic of S-layer formation on a lipid bilayer
Bottom: 3-dimensional interpretation of AFM data acquired during analysis.

Scientific Achievement

Using in-situ Atomic Force Microscopy to directly observe S-layer formation on mica chips, Foundry scientists show that a kinetic trap occurs during protein self-assembly. Some domains become trapped in high-energy states. Once in this state, the energy barrier for relaxation into low-energy domains approaches that required for initial formation.


This study of S-layer crystallization demonstrates the role of kinetic traps in determining the pathway of ordered systems. Monomers rapidly cluster together in various intermediate conformations, before relaxing into stable states. Because protein architectures require conformational changes from individual monomers, this phenomenon may be generally applicable to protein self-assembly.

Research Details

Seong-Ho Shin, Sungwook Chung, Babak Sanii, Luis R. Comolli, Carolyn R. Bertozzi, and James J. De Yoreo. PNAS, 109, 12968 (2012)