Virus forms nano template

September 22/29, 2004

Living matter self-assembles into complex organisms that can contain billions of cells, and researchers have tapped biological molecules like DNA and viruses to self-assemble technologically useful structures and materials.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Brown University have showed how self-assembly mechanisms that bring together charged membranes and oppositely charged polymers like biological molecules can be understood in terms of simple rules, and have applied the rules to make virus-membrane complexes with pore sizes that can be used to organize molecules.

These complexes are made from alternating layers of membranes and viruses. They could be used as scaffolds to build nanostructures or as drug delivery systems, according to the researchers.

Existing DNA-membrane complexes have pore sizes that are too small to organize large molecules like proteins. The researchers' virus-membrane complexes, which use a bacteria-infecting virus, have pore sizes of about 10 nanometers, which is about 10 times larger than DNA-membrane complexes.

The researchers used the virus-membrane complex to capture and arrange arrays of ruthenium ions, which are relatively large at 1.2 nanometers in diameter. The ruthenium ion is used as a fluorescent dye.

Self-assembled virus-membrane complexes could be used in practical applications in 10 to 20 years, according to the researchers. The work appeared in the August 15, 2004 issue of Nature Materials.

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