Thursday, December 29, 2005

Protein 'Nanosprings' Bounce into the Lime Light

The paper describes work carried out by the groups of Professor Piotr Marszalek and Professor Vann Bennett at Duke's Engineering School and Medical Center. The team's findings were published in an advanced online publication of Nature on Jan. 15, 2006.

They found that the protein components, called "ankyrin repeats," exhibit unprecedented elastic properties and believe that studying them could lead to a new understanding of how organisms, including humans, sense and respond to physical forces at the cellular level. The nanometer-sized springs are also ideal candidates for building biologically-inspired springy nanostructures and nanomaterials with an inherent ability to self-repair, they reported.

Using atomic force microscopy (AFM) to view the individual molecules, a research associate, Yong Jiang, found that ankyrin repeats display a hook-like shape consistent with a spring. Graduate student Gwangrog Lee further examined the molecules' elastic properties by attaching one end of the molecule to a glass slide and gently pulling at the other end with the AFM cantilever. "After thousands of stretches, a pattern emerged," Marszalek said. "The molecule exhibited linear elasticity--a property that had never been seen in any other protein."

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Protein 'nanosprings', most resilient found in nature