(By, Kevin Le)
Proteins are only about the size of a nanometer (one billionth of a meter), yet they are the most fundamental building blocks of life as we know it. Also known as ‘molecular machines’ for their wide repertoire of complex bio-molecular processes, proteins allow for phenomena such as growth, repair, transporting material between cells, defending against invaders, catalyzing chemical reaction, creating more proteins, and even creating prisons for ‘mis-behaving’ proteins – the list goes on and on. Creating an artificial version of proteins would be excruciating, but if successful, these bionic proteins, would revolutionize medicine and pharmaceutics forever.
Back in the University of Vienna and University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, physicists and researchers are working together to develop nano-machines which can imitate the activities of natural proteins. Recently, they released an example of a fully artificial bio-mimetic model capable of self-knotting itself into a structure. Now, they are using computer simulations to reverse-engineer proteins and study the very DNA and genetic code which allows proteins to function. These scientists hope to discover how to make their own bio-mimetic model knot itself into a protein using the knowledge they are gathering from these intense computer simulations.
In the laboratory, the physicists and researchers are working on creating artificial protein using specially functionalized nanoparticles. Using the information developed from the computer simulations, the scientists will link and knot these nanoparticles in the same way they believe proteins are intertwined. If everything goes to plan, then the knotted nanostructures will be able to successfully imitate proteins. Bionic proteins would allow for more stable drug delivery methods while also advancing pharmaceutics research by acting as enzymes and catalysts in the development of medicine. Someday, pharmacists may even be able to create medicines which could work even more effectively than antibiotics at repairing wounds.
Right now, the search for bionic protein is promising, and soon medicine will be more effective than ever before. Life’s fundamental building blocks will become medicine’s fundamental building block, and this technology has the capability of saving lives. At the same time, bionic protein may draw criticism from people who don’t want “robots” in their medicine. However, this nanotechnology is not a matter of robotics – it is a matter of innovation.
“Imitating these astonishing bio-mechanical properties of proteins and transferring them to a fully artificial system is our long-term objective.” – Ivan Coluzza, member of the Faculty of Physics of the University of Vienna