Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley have put benign viruses to good use by developing a technique to make virions self-assemble into engineered constructs which mimic biological structures, such as cornea, teeth and skin. Bioengineers Seung-Wuk Lee and Woo-Jae Chung published their work in the latest issue of journal Nature.
In an effort to understand more about structures made by nature, such as collagens and celluloses, the engineers were looking for new engineering materials to study the assembly process. Because of its distinct properties, the M13 virus was chosen as a building block for the synthetic biomaterials. This specific virus, which in nature attacks E.coli, can assemble in complex ways because it has a long, slender shape, a chiral twist and an elegant helical surface.
The viruses were suspended in a buffered salt solution and the engineers held a substrate in the solution under different environmental conditions, which are described in their article. Under these different circumstances, the investigators were able to make three different kinds of organized thin-film structures, each of which had a different level of viral filaments arrangement complexity and also a different color, iridescence and polarity.
The team members believe their model approaches the way nature can dynamically change environmental variables when building tissues. They also demonstrated that their engineered films can serve as biological substrates. On of the things created in a lab was a biomaterial similar to tooth enamel. For future research, there are many opportunities for this technique, for example in the area of tissue regeneration and repair.
Check out a video below in which the viruses attach to the thin sheet of glass as it is pulled out of the solution:
Berkeley announcement: Researchers turn viruses into molecular Legos …
Abstract in Nature: Biomimetic self-templating supramolecular structures