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Nature. 2011 Oct 19;478(7369):364-8. doi: 10.1038/nature10513.

Biomimetic self-templating supramolecular structures.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


In nature, helical macromolecules such as collagen, chitin and cellulose are critical to the morphogenesis and functionality of various hierarchically structured materials. During tissue formation, these chiral macromolecules are secreted and undergo self-templating assembly, a process whereby multiple kinetic factors influence the assembly of the incoming building blocks to produce non-equilibrium structures. A single macromolecule can form diverse functional structures when self-templated under different conditions. Collagen type I, for instance, forms transparent corneal tissues from orthogonally aligned nematic fibres, distinctively coloured skin tissues from cholesteric phase fibre bundles, and mineralized tissues from hierarchically organized fibres. Nature's self-templated materials surpass the functional and structural complexity achievable by current top-down and bottom-up fabrication methods. However, self-templating has not been thoroughly explored for engineering synthetic materials. Here we demonstrate the biomimetic, self-templating assembly of chiral colloidal particles (M13 phage) into functional materials. A single-step process produces long-range-ordered, supramolecular films showing multiple levels of hierarchical organization and helical twist. Three distinct supramolecular structures are created by this approach: nematic orthogonal twists, cholesteric helical ribbons and smectic helicolidal nanofilaments. Both chiral liquid crystalline phase transitions and competing interfacial forces at the interface are found to be critical factors in determining the morphology of the templated structures during assembly. The resulting materials show distinctive optical and photonic properties, functioning as chiral reflector/filters and structural colour matrices. In addition, M13 phages with genetically incorporated bioactive peptide ligands direct both soft and hard tissue growth in a hierarchically organized manner. Our assembly approach provides insight into the complexities of hierarchical assembly in nature and could be expanded to other chiral molecules to engineer sophisticated functional helical-twisted structures.

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