Biological and medical research is on the threshold of a new era based on better understanding of how large organic molecules bind together and recognise each other. There is great potential for exploiting the molecular docking processes that are commonplace in all organisms to develop new drugs that act more specifically without adverse side effects, and construct novel materials by mimicking nature.
A recent workshop on Biosupramolecular Chemistry organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF) strengthened Europe’s platform for progress towards these goals by bringing together scientists in the relevant fields and identifying key research targets. The workshop also identified some applications close to fruition, including the engineering of bacteria to produce silks as strong for their thickness as spider webs. It has been a longstanding challenge to emulate the mechanical properties of spider silk, which combines stiffness and tensile strength with the ability to become elastic under high strains to protect against destruction. A recent project led by Thomas Scheibel at the Technical University of Munich is close to a solution that could have a host of practical applications ranging from biodegradable fishing line to body armour.
The artificial spider silk production exemplified the expertise and skills required for successful applications in biosupramolecular chemistry, in this case by combining genetic engineering with sophisticated micro-manipulation techniques to optimise production of the desired material. Firstly genes were inserted into the bacteria to produce proteins as similar as possible to spider silk. Then microfluidic approaches, dealing with fluids at very small scales, were used to fabricate the silk. Finally the mechanical properties were optimised further by substituting some of the amino acid components of the proteins.
Other applications of biosupramolecular chemistry are further off, but coming into range, according to the ESF workshop convenor, Professor Anthony Davis from Bristol University in the UK. But the most important aspect of the ESF workshop was the bringing together of scientists in two previously distinct fields, said Davis. “Our main aim was to get two groups of scientists talking to each other - the supramolecular chemists, and a group of biologists who might be termed ‘biomolecular engineers’,” said Davis. “Certainly this objective was fulfilled.” Supramolecular chemists study and manipulate the interactions between molecules in general, while biomolecular engineers specialise in exploiting the large organic molecules found in Nature.
Biological macromolecules include proteins comprising amino acids, complex carbohydrates made from simpler sugar molecules, as well as both RNA and DNA made from nucleic acids. Unlike small molecules, these large constructions exhibit multiple chemical properties at different parts of their surface, which means that interactions between them depend on geometrical features. It is the geometrical arrangement of the component parts, as much as their chemical identity, that determines how a macromolecule will behave and interact with other molecules both large and small. Some molecules will only react or bind with certain others, often temporarily, on a “lock and key” basis determined by the relative shapes of the surface. Such transient associations between large molecules (supramolecules) are very important in biology, for example in the binding between antibodies and antigens in the immune response, and also between an enzyme and its substrate, i.e. the compound it is acting upon.
These looser interactions between large molecules are called non-covalent because they do not involve sharing of electrons, but instead exploit variations in electrical charge distribution in their vicinity. Since each individual bond is weak, non-covalent bonding relies on the collective strength of multiple bonds and is therefore only a viable mechanism for joining larger molecules together.
As well as being important for temporary binding, non-covalent bonding forces are also essential for maintaining the structure of large proteins, and for the DNA double helix, on a longer term basis, by holding the components together. This is a very complex subject given the huge number of combinations of components involved, and so a significant advance reported at the ESF Biosupramolecular conference by Andrei Lupas from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Germany was of a dictionary representing proteins by motifs, that is smaller coherent arrangements of its constituent amino acids, derived from studying their evolutionary history. Lupas showed how such a dictionary could be used to derive evolutionary relationships between proteins. This could have great application in evolutionary biology and also for determining the role of proteins whose function is as yet largely unknown, as well as understanding diseases where protein interactions go wrong.
Having identified many promising avenues of research, the ESF workshop is likely to be followed up by further meetings, according to Davis.”We hope to organise another meeting in 2009, and maybe keep going to create a regular series of symposia.”
Anthony Davis | EurekAlert!
Scientists discover species of dolphin that existed along South Carolina coast
24.08.2017 | New York Institute of Technology
The science of fluoride flipping
24.08.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
24.08.2017 | Life Sciences
24.08.2017 | Life Sciences
24.08.2017 | Medical Engineering