Biochemical strategies in load-bearing natural materials

Biochemical strategies in load-bearing natural materials

Biological organisms produce numerous protein-based materials possessing a range of industrially desirable properties – e.g., damage tolerance, self-healing, actuation, and underwater adhesion. We investigate the biochemical, biophysical and structural underpinnings of such material behaviors with the goal of adapting extracted concepts to bioengineered polymers with tailored properties.

To achieve these aims, we take a three-pronged multi-disciplinary strategy utilizing approaches in biology, biochemistry, molecular biology and materials science:

I. Learn from nature: Extract design principles at multiple length scales via in-depth structural, mechanical and biochemical characterization.

II. Characterize building blocks: Investigate protein building blocks to elucidate molecular-level biochemical structure-function relationships via in vitro characterization.

III. Synthesize tailored biopolymers: Integrate extracted principles into biopolymers with tailored material properties and structural organization.

Special Topics: Sacrificial bonds (SBs) are non-covalent interactions that rupture prior to the unfolding of “hidden” protein length - dissipating mechanical energy and if reversible, leading to molecular repair. Recently, protein-metal coordination bonds were found to function as strong, yet reversible SBs in the fibrous core and protective cuticle of mussel byssal threads where they contribute to material toughness, energy dissipation and self-healing behavior.

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