Reflectins, the unique structural proteins that allow squids and octopuses to change colors and blend in with their surroundings, are thought to have enormous potential for advancements in fields as diverse as electronics, optics, and medicine. Due to their atypical chemical composition and high sensitivity to subtle environmental changes, scientists and inventors have been stymied in their attempts to fully utilize these biomolecules’ powers.
Researchers discovered the molecular structure of a reflectin variant and demonstrated a method for mechanically controlling the protein’s hierarchical assembly and optical properties. These findings are key steps toward utilizing many of the reflectin family’s potentially useful properties.
Reflectin appeals to scientists because, like other protein-based materials, it has many advantageous properties, such as controllable self-assembly, stimuli-responsiveness, customizable functionality, and compatibility with other biological systems. Model biomaterials have also demonstrated their utility in modifying the refractive index of human cells and promoting the growth of neural stem cells. They chose a reflectin variant based on bioinformatics predictions, produced the protein in bacteria, and developed solution conditions to keep it stable.
The researchers then analyzed the protein and its solutions using various tools, including molecular dynamics simulations, small-angle x-ray scattering, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. They also used atomic force microscopy and three-dimensional holotomographic microscopy to investigate the assembled multimeric protein ensembles. Using these methods, the team could evaluate a wide range of qualities and properties for the reflectin variant.
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