Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Prions offer nanotech building tool


The same characteristics that make misfolded proteins known as prions such a pernicious medical threat in neurodegenerative diseases may offer a construction toolkit for manufacturing nanoscale electrical circuits, researchers report this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists working at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the University of Chicago write that they have used the durable, self-assembling fibers formed by prions as a template on which to deposit electricity-bearing gold and silver, creating electrical wire much thinner than it is possible to make by current mechanical processes.

"Most of the people working on nanocircuits are trying to build them using ’top-down’ fabrication techniques" used in conventional electrical engineering, explained Whitehead Institute Director Susan Lindquist, a co-author of the study. "We thought we’d try a ’bottom-up’ approach, and let molecular self-assembly do the hard work for us."

Construction of nanoscale microcircuits and machines is one of the highly prized goals of nanotechnology. Manufacturing is very tricky at this scale – a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter; a nanometer is to a meter what a small grape would be to the entire Earth. Moreover, these devices depend on nanowires to conduct electricity. So far, the mass production of these tiny wires has stymied researchers. Making very small computers and optical switches, or even biomedical devices that could be inserted into the body, could open up whole new fields of computation and medicine.

Lindquist and her colleagues took a different approach. Rather than building the metal wire itself, they let prions build a very thin fibrous template and then coaxed gold and silver to bond to the protein fibers. By themselves, the fibers are insulators; they can’t conduct electricity. But when coated with gold and silver particles, they became remarkably effective electrical wires.

The choice of prions to build this template was a natural one for Lindquist and her colleagues at the University of Chicago, where she started work on this project before joining Whitehead Institute. Proteins are the cell’s workhorses, and they need to fold into complex and precise shapes to do their jobs. Prions are misfolded proteins – rather like an origami swan that comes out looking and acting instead like an ostrich.

Prions have another characteristic that makes them ideal for the mass-manufacturing jobs researchers have in mind: They recruit other, properly folded proteins into misforming along with them, a process Lindquist calls a "conformational cascade" that ends up producing more and more ostriches instead of swans.

In the test tube, conformational cascade generates strings and strings of tough, durable and heat-resistant protein fibers of a type known as "amyloid". In humans, amyloids are best known as the plaque that gunks up neurons in people with Alzheimer’s, mad cow disease and other neurodegenerative illnesses. This may be one reason why these diseases are so resistant to treatment. However, yeast prions used as the source of protein in these experiments are completely harmless, making them safe to work with in manufacturing.

Lindquist and colleagues used a special genetic variant of yeast they modified to produce fibers capable of bonding with gold particles. They then coated these fiber strings with enough metal to make a working electrical wire.

In all important respects, these nanowires possess the characteristics of conventional solid metal wire, Lindquist explained, such as low resistance to electrical current.

"With materials like these," she noted, "it should be possible to harness the extraordinary diversity and specificity of protein functions to nanoscale electrical circuitry."

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the W.M. Keck Foundation, the University of Chicago Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC program of the NSF), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a postdoctoral fellowship of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (T.S.).

Rick Borchelt | EurekAlert!

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht From ancient fossils to future cars
21.10.2016 | University of California - Riverside

nachricht Study explains strength gap between graphene, carbon fiber
20.10.2016 | Rice University

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>