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Biomacromolecules. 2004 Jul-Aug;5(4):1351-5.

Giant bent-core mesogens in the thread forming process of marine mussels.

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Department of Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA.


In marine mussels (Mytilus), byssal threads are made in minutes from prefabricated smectic polymer liquid crystals by a process resembling reaction injection molding. The mesogens in these arrays are known to be natural block copolymers with rodlike collagen cores. Using atomic force microscopy, it was shown that these collagenous mesogens are bent-core or banana-shaped in a manner that is consistent with and predictable from their amino acid sequence. The overall bend angle in preCOL-NG in Mytilus galloprovincialis is about 130 degrees. The mesogens have a center-to-center separation of approximately 22 nm and a length of 200 nm. It is evident that the smectic structure of the prefabricated mesophases remains largely intact over 1-3 microm distances in the molded fibers and is presumably locked in place during molding by cross-linking. Like the smectic liquid crystals of many synthetic banana mesogens, the collagenous mesogens of the byssal threads exhibit SmC(2) symmetry with a characteristic tilt of 24.6 degrees. At about 100% extension, this tilt is considerably reduced and the globular end domains are no longer visible presumably because they have been unraveled.

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