Army project may lead to new class of high-performance materials

phys.org | 11/7/2019 | Staff
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Synthetic biologists working on a U.S. Army project have developed a process that could lead to a new class of synthetic polymers that may create new high-performance materials and therapeutics for Soldiers.

Nature Communications published research conducted by Army-funded researchers at Northwestern University, who developed a set of design rules to guide how ribosomes, a cell structure that makes protein, can incorporate new kinds of monomers, which can be bonded with identical molecules to form polymers.

Findings - Step - Polymers - Challenge - Field

"These findings are an exciting step forward to achieving sequence-defined synthetic polymers, which has been a grand challenge in the field of polymer chemistry," said Dr. Dawanne Poree, program manager, polymer chemistry at the Army Research Office. "The ability to harness and adapt cellular machinery to produce non-biological polymers would, in essence, bring synthetic materials into the realm of biological functions. This could render advanced, high-performance materials such as nanoelectronics, self-healing materials, and other materials of interest for the Army."

Biological polymers such as DNA, have precise building block sequences that provide for a variety of advanced functions such as information storage and self-replication. This project looked at how to re-engineer biological machinery to allow it to work with non-biological building blocks that would offer a route to creating synthetic polymers with the precision of biology.

Polymers - Development - Protective - Gear - Electronics

"These new synthetic polymers may enable the development of advanced personal protective gear, sophisticated electronics, fuel cells, advanced solar cells and nanofabrication, which are all key to the protection and performance of Soldiers," Poree said.

"We set out to expand the range of ribosomal monomers for protein synthesis to enable new directions in biomanufacturing," said Michael Jewett, the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, professor of chemical and biological engineering, and director of the Center for Synthetic Biology at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering. "What's so exciting is that we learned the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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