Researchers have developed a process for creating ultrathin, self-assembling sheets of synthetic materials that can function like designer flypaper in selectively binding with viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens.
In this way the new platform, developed by a team led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), could potentially be used to inactivate or detect pathogens.
The team, which also included researchers from New York University, created the synthesized nanosheets at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a nanoscale science center, out of self-assembling, bio-inspired polymers known as peptoids. The study was published earlier this month in the journal ACS Nano (“Glycosylated Peptoid Nanosheets as a Multivalent Scaffold for Protein Recognition”).
The sheets were designed to present simple sugars in a patterned way along their surfaces, and these sugars, in turn, were demonstrated to selectively bind with several proteins, including one associated with the Shiga toxin, which causes dysentery. Because the outside of our cells are flat and covered with sugars, these 2-D nanosheets can effectively mimic cell surfaces.
“It’s not just a ‘lock and key’ – it’s like Velcro, with a bunch of little loops that converge on the target protein together,” said Ronald Zuckermann, a scientist at the Molecular Foundry who led the study. “Now we can mimic a nanoscale feature that is ubiquitous in biology.”
He noted that numerous pathogens, from the flu virus to cholera bacteria, bind to sugars on cell surfaces. So picking the right sugars to bind to the peptoid nanosheets, in the right distributions, can determine which pathogens will be drawn to them.
“The chemistry we’re doing is very modular,” Zuckermann added. “We can ‘click on’ different sugars, and present them on a well-defined, planar surface. We can control how far apart they are from each other. We can do this with pretty much any sugar.”
Image Credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory