Similar to the way in which ants helped the Greek goddess Psyche in sorting a room filled with various grains, cells organize molecules into strong, functional fibers - but without any assistance. Researchers have now noticed that these self-sorting phenomena occur with artificial molecules in real time.
This discovery explains how two different types of nanofibers arrange themselves into organized structures under unnatural conditions. The results of the study have been published in Nature Chemistry.
Basic cellular structures, such as actin filaments, come into being through the autonomous self-sorting of individual molecules, even though a tremendous variety of proteins and small molecules are present inside the cell.
Hajime Shigemitsu, lead author and researcher in Itaru Hamachi's lab at Kyoto University.
"Imagine a box filled with an assortment of building blocks -- it's as if the same type of blocks started sorting themselves into neat bundles all on their own. In living cells, such phenomena always happen, enabling accurate self-assembling of proteins, which is essential for cell functions."
"If we are able to control self-sorting with artificial molecules, we can work toward developing intelligent, next-generation biomimics that possess the flexibility and diversity of functions that exist in a living cell."
Ryou Kubota, co-author of the study, elucidates that studies performed in the past had also made the artificial molecules to self-assemble and form fibers; however, only one type of molecule was involved in this phenomenon. On the contrary, an assortment of molecules leads to confusion among them.
"The difficulty in inducing self-assembly with artificial molecules is that they don't recognize the same type of molecule, unlike molecules in the natural world. Different types of artificial molecules interact with each other and make an unsorted cluster."
Hamachi and co-workers found a combination of nanofibers, i.e. a lipid based and peptide based hydrogelator from a database of structural analyses, which would form sorted fibers without combining with one other. The researchers later joined these fibers using fluorescent probes and then with the help of microscope used in cell imaging they were able to observe the way the artificial molecules arranged themselves in real-time.
Ultimately, this finding could help develop new materials that respond dynamically to different environments and stimuli. This insight is not only useful for materials science, but may also provide useful clues for understanding self-organization in cells.