New Technique to Assemble Proteins with Nanometer Accuracy

A research team headed by LMU physicist Professor Hermann Gaub has developed a technique called Single-Molecule Cut & Paste (SMC&P) wherein an atomic force microscope (AFM)’s super sharp tip enables the pickup and deposition of single biomolecules at the designated site with nano-scale accuracy.

Initially, the technique was only applied to DNA molecules. Nevertheless, protein assembly is one of the key objectives of nanotechnology and finding a practical method not only helps understand the mechanism of live cells but also opens the door to build and use designer nanomachines.

For this purpose, the LMU team has refined the method to pick up proteins from a storage location and deposit them at designated sites with nano-scale accuracy in a construction area. It is essential that attachment of biomolecules to the AFM tip must be firm enough so that they can be securely deposited in the construction area. However, the forces that bond the proteins during travel and assembly must be closely controlled and must not be strong, so as to avoid damage. To attain these two objectives, the team utilized a combination of DNA anchors, DNA-binding ‘zinc-finger’ proteins and antibodies.

This method enables direct testing of functional qualities of complicated protein machines such as the interaction of different enzyme combinations and their preferred range of closeness to carry out coupled reactions. Another objective is to design synthetic multimolecular assemblies simulated on natural ‘cellulosomes,’ which can be utilized in plant biomass conversion into biofules.

Mathias Strackharn, one of the researchers, informed that it is possible to develop copies of these 'enzymatic assembly lines' through protein assembly, paving the way to exploit sustainable energy sources.


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