Biomolecular Materials That Talk and Listen
Stayton, Patrick S.
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"Smart" or "intelligent" materials are those that reversibly change their structural and functional properties in response to environmental signals such as a change in temperature. Nature has itself perfected smart polymers in the form of proteins. A hallmark of many proteins is their ability to change their structural and functional properties in response to specific physical changes. That they can do this reversibly, in a continuously cyclical fashion, is a remarkable materials property. The molecular mechanisms that proteins use to sense and respond provide interesting paradigms for the development of new smart polymer based biotechnologies. As with nature and proteins, we have been working to develop systems where the environmentally responsive changes in polymer structure and physical properties are directly coupled to biofunctionality. These biofunctional smart polymers provide "listening" elements that reversibly modulate protein (or other biomolecules) activity in the device setting. Other biofunctional smart polymers are designed to directly enhance intracellular trafficking of biomolecular therapeutics, by destabilizing biological membranes in response to compartmental pH changes. In this talk, I will provide an overview of hybrid polymer biomolecule systems that are designed for applications in gene and protein delivery, diagnostics, microfluidics, and chip/array biotechnologies. These systems merge the impressive recognition and biofunctional properties of biomolecules, with the impressive responsiveness and chemical versatility of functional polymers.