Most life on Earth is predicated on polymers of 20 amino acids which have advanced into tons of of 1000’s of various, specialised proteins. They catalyze reactions, type spine and muscle, and generate motion.
However is all that selection obligatory? May biology work simply as nicely with fewer constructing blocks and easier polymers?
Ting Xu, a University of California, Berkeley polymer scientist, thinks so. She has developed a method to mimic particular features of pure proteins utilizing two, 4 or six totally different constructing blocks — ones at the moment utilized in plastics — and located that these various polymers work in addition to actual protein and are quite a bit simpler to synthesize than making an attempt to duplicate nature’s design.
As a proof of idea, she used her design technique, which is predicated on machine studying or synthetic intelligence, to synthesize polymers that mimic blood plasma. The synthetic organic fluid stored pure protein biomarkers intact with out refrigeration and even made the pure proteins extra proof against excessive temperatures — an enchancment over actual blood plasma.
The protein substitutes may very well be a game-changer in biomedical functions, because it takes plenty of effort to tweak pure proteins to do issues they weren’t initially designed to do, or attempt to recreate the 3D construction of pure proteins.
As an alternative, AI might decide the appropriate quantity, kind and association of plastic constructing blocks — much like these utilized in dental fillings, for instance — to imitate the specified perform of a protein, and polymer chemistry may very well be used to make it.
Within the case of blood plasma, for instance, the bogus polymers have been designed to dissolve and stabilize pure protein biomarkers within the blood. Xu and her workforce additionally created a mixture of artificial polymers to interchange the liquid inside a cell, the so-called cytosol. In a check tube stuffed with synthetic organic fluid, the cell’s nanomachines, the ribosomes, continued to pump out pure.
The design framework additionally opens the door to designing hybrid organic techniques, the place plastic polymers work together easily with pure proteins to enhance a system, comparable to photosynthesis. The polymers may very well be made to degrade naturally, making the system recyclable and sustainable.
Xu’s objective is to rethink how biomaterials are at the moment designed. “We’re not letting biology inform us how the fabric ought to be designed. We’re particular person pathways, particular person elements, and never it holistically.”