IN a major step forward in the discovery of new gels, scientists at the University of Strathclyde and City University of New York have developed a screening method to simplify the discovery of biological gels for food, cosmetics, and biomedicine.
The breakthrough method*, published in the journal Nature Chemistry
, enables an accurate prediction of how peptides, the building blocks of living systems, could combine to form stable gels. Dr. Tell Tuttle
of University of Strathclyde, and Professor Rein Ulijn
, director of Nanoscience at City University New York’s new advanced research center and who also holds a position at Strathclyde, believe their team’s innovative method dramatically simplifies discovery of functional gels that can be used in a wide range of applications.
Professor Ulijn said the team aims to design structures based on peptides and inspired by biology. These structures are much simpler to make them scalable, tunable, robust, and functional. “We now have predictive methods to achieve this. Most people are familiar with the DNA as the code for life. This code translates into only 20 chemical building blocks—amino acids—that are combined in specific sequences, known as peptides, which provide structures of living systems,” Professor Ulijn added.
The huge number of possible amino acid sequences and the difficulty in testing all sequences have, however, limited the discovery of new candidate peptides for specific applications. No method existed for the reliable prediction of whether a particular peptide, for example a tripeptide composed of three amino acids, would form a structure such as a biological gel. Scientists relied on chance or time-consuming individual experiments.
According to Dr. Tuttle, “There are 8,000 possible tripeptides and we have developed computational methods to predict which of these could be used to develop materials with desirable properties. These methods led to the discovery of a new family of simple tripeptides that are able to form hydrogels at neutral pH. These materials are much simpler compared to the gels of biological systems but they have some interesting properties that may be exploited in various areas, such as cell culture and ingredients for cosmetics.”
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* P.W.J.M. Frederix, G.G. Scott, Y.M. Abul-Haija, D. Kalafatovic, C.G. Pappas, N. Javid, N.T. Hunt, R.V. Ulijn and T. Tuttle, Exploring the Sequence Space for (Tri-)peptide Self-Assembly to Design and Discover New Hydrogels, Nat. Chem., 2014, In Press