Protein Nanomaterials for Advanced Biotechnology Applications
In biotechnology, new tools and materials that can precisely manipulate molecular interactions and transport at the scale of nanometers provide new opportunities to solve problems in biological systems. Proteins are a class of biological polymers that present exceptional structural, physical, and biological features at the nanoscale. We strategically harness the exciting features proteins to design novel nanomaterials. Using proteins as primary building blocks, we design nanomaterials with novel properties for applications in biosensors, nanomedicine, bioimaging, and biomanufacturing. We are developing protein nanomaterials in three main categories:
Protein origami: We develop a new method to create protein nanomaterials in highly complex shapes. It is based on a powerful toolkit of protein motifs, coiled coils. They provide the capacity to manipulate binding specificity, affinity, oligomeric state, physical length, and helix orientation. Thus, the use of coiled coils enables programming protein polymers that fold and assemble into complex 3D shapes at the nanoscale. This new method, termed protein origami, enables precise design and fabrication of nanostructures with remarkable controls over molecular dimensions and dynamics at the nanoscale.
Nanocaged protein biocatalysts: Protein nanocages, such structures with hollow nanoscale cavities, play essential roles in delivery and regulation of biomolecules in nature, as well as they provide a great potential as nanoscale encapsulation materials for applications in biocatalysis and drug delivery. Potential advantages of packaging enzymes into cages include improved enzyme stability, protection of cargo from proteolysis, and increased substrate-selective permeability. We engineer novel enzyme-packaging nanocages with tuned physical and biocatalytic properties.
Protein-engineered hybrid nanomaterials: Nanostructured proteins are attractive as templates that enable near-room-temperature synthesis hybrid materials in aqueous environments. Also, nanostructured protein template can be used to grow nanophase materials in complex shapes and morphologies that are correlated with novel physical, optical, or electronic properties. We design nanostructured protein templates for novel hybrid materials and develop processes for advanced bio-nanomanufacturing.