Advances in science are driven by new discoveries which can pave the way to new create new research directions. For example, crystals by the nature of their order in three-dimensional space, cannot flex or expand, but with the integration of macromolecular ferritin crystals with hydrogel polymers can change their dimensions.
Researchers from UC San Diego have developed a new form of materials that integrate macromolecular protein crystals with synthetic polymer networks. These hybrids seamlessly combine the structural order and periodicity of crystals, the adaptiveness and tunable mechanical properties of polymeric networks and the chemical versatility of protein building blocks.
Additionally, the ability to reversibly expand–contract crystal lattices and mobilize their protein components may provide a new means to explore otherwise inaccessible protein structural states using three-dimensional protein crystallography. Protein crystals are often highly porous, sometimes containing up to 90% solvent, and are usually assembled through weak, non-covalent packing interactions; therefore, this invention should be applicable to other protein lattices.
More specifically, these unique macromolecular ferritin crystals with integrated hydrogel polymers can isotropically expand to 180 per cent of their original dimensions and more than 500 per cent of their original volume while retaining periodic order and faceted Wulff morphologies. Dynamic bonding interactions between the hydrogel network and the ferritin molecules endow the crystals with the ability to resist fragmentation and self-heal efficiently, whereas the chemical tailorability of the ferritin molecules enables the creation of chemically and mechanically differentiated domains within single crystals.
This technology has the potential for generalizability, coupled with the chemical tailorability of synthetic polymers and the genetic mutability of proteins, should make protein crystal–hydrogel hybrids a rich medium for materials science.
Researchers have experimental data and are working on a prototype.
This technology is patent pending and available for licensing and/or research sponsorship.
Materials Design, protein crystallography, reagents, ferritin crystals, hydrogel polymers