Researchers at Princeton University have built the world’s smallest mechanically linked biological structure. It is a deceptively simple two-ring chain that is made up of tiny strands of amino acids called peptides.
The team of scientists detailed a library of such structures created in their laboratory – two interlocking rings, a dumbbell ring, a garland and a double lasso. Each is approximately one billionth of a meter in diameter. The study also demonstrates that some of these structures can switch between at least two forms. This property can be used to create a biomolecular switch. The results are published in the journal Nature Chemistry.
“We’ve built a lot of structures, no one has ever done it before,” said A. James Link, professor of chemical and biological engineering and lead author of the study. “These are the smallest threadlike or interconnected structures you can make from peptides.”
To create these peptide structures, the researchers used genetic engineering techniques. This allowed them to manipulate individual amino acids and force the peptide to self-assemble into new forms. Also, scientists bypassed the need to use aggressive solvents and metal ions. They are usually used to create analogous synthetic molecular architectures.