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Peptides Prove Useful as Nanobuilders

Peptides Prove Useful as Nanobuilders

There are two ways to build an object: carve it from a singular block of material or build it from its many parts.

Traditionally, electronic circuits are created using the former method. Flat sheets of silicon with dopant atoms are cut into sandwich-like pieces and carved into useful structures. Researchers now are working to further miniaturize the assembly process by using ‘nanocrystals’ of semi conducting materials to build circuits.

Nanocrystals are small items, only a few nanometers across. This makes them several times smaller than the transistors in regular integrated circuits. Nanocrystals can then plausibly be used as switching mechanisms or memory elements. The small crystals are organized by metal-binding peptides. Cells move materials on the same small scale as the nanocrystals. Nature is used to working with organic-based compounds, and is not adapted to semiconductor materials.

Previous research done at the University of Copenhagen revealed that proteins have chemical groups that bond to certain metals. Scientists found peptides that have the right molecular structure to fit on the surface atoms of the metals.

At the University of Texas at Austin, Angela Belcher and other researchers have found the analog of the peptides and metals for semi-conducting materials. After 5 rounds of trials of running different peptides chemically linked to protein coats of colphage they discovered which phage particles were capable of sticking to the metals, and from that were able to isolate the useful peptides.

-- Catherine Shaw