Image showing Spaghetti-Ball Proteins

Spaghetti-Ball Proteins

Biomedical engineers at Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of New Mexico have engineered the first examples of biomimetic structures composed of a mysterious class of proteins that lack any sort of internal structure. The advance may help scientists investigate functioning cells and provide a new route to targeted drug delivery and regenerative medicine.

In a paper published on Jan. 30 in the journal Nature Chemistry, researchers from Duke University, the Rubinstein Group and the University of New Mexico, UNM, reveal the ability to control the self-assembly and disassembly of these structures in an organized manner. The advance will allow more thorough studies of these interesting proteins, while also providing new opportunities for biomedical applications.

In the paper, the researchers describe a process resembling the oil and water droplets that form in salad dressing. Except here, the “oil” is drop of a concentrated protein solution whose size and formation is triggered by environmental stimuli. This allows the creation of droplets that will coat one another, like assembling an onion of different proteins that form concentric layers.

This work was funded through a six-year, $13.2 million National Science Foundation collaborative agreement between Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of New Mexico. This work was also supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Story courtesy of Ken Kingery, Duke University