New Molecular Superglue Was Inspired By Flesh-Eating Bacteria

Biochemists created a protein used by bacteria to bind and invade human cells and made a glue that binds molecules together.

Researchers at Oxford University have developed a really strong superglue that can stick molecules together and not let go. It was inspired by a protein from a type of bacteria that can cause deadly infections like flesh-eating disease. The molecular glue could have many applications in the research lab and the wider scientific community.

Dr. Mark Howarth and graduate student Bijan Zakeri at the Department of Biochemistry developed the superglue by engineering Streptococcus pyogenes, a protein used by bacteria to bind and invade human cells. The protein has a 3D structure with strong chemical bonds that form in an instant and bind together with exceptional strength. The biochemists engineered the protein to split and reform, nicknaming the larger fragment ‘SpyCatcher’ and the shorter protein segment, ‘SpyTag’. Once they get hold of each other, they never let go, and will stick together in test tube reactions or inside cells, without sticking to other things.

The ability to attach SpyCatcher and SpyTag onto other molecules you want to glue together could have many applications. For example, sticking all the enzymes involved in a chemical process into a small factory could speed reactions and increase yields. Or you might want to bring all the elements together that plants use to turn sunlight into energy with only water as a waste product. Scientists have long wanted to come up with ways of achieving photosynthesis artificially for useable green energy.

Oxford University

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