Research Highlight

New recipe for soft gel

doi:10.1038/nindia.2010.147 Published online 26 October 2010

Researchers have used a bacterial enzyme to drive self-assembly of an aromatic peptide, giving rise to a supramolecular gel. This molecular gel could be used to devise novel nanostructures.

To find a new recipe for achieving molecular assembly for the nanofabrication of future soft materials, the researchers used subtilisin, an enzyme isolated from Bacillus licheniformis, a type of bacteria that catalyses the growth of self-assembling peptides known as Fmoc-dipeptide methyl esters.

The enzyme-catalysed self-supporting gel was formed from the peptides. The gel contained nano-sized fibres around 10 nm in diameter. The rate of catalytic self-assembly was tuned simply by changing the amount of enzyme in the system.

Higher enzyme concentrations gave rise to increasingly stable gels. Analysis by atomic force microscopy revealed that the nanometre- to micrometre-scale self-assembled network structure was directly controlled by the amount of enzyme, with lower enzyme concentrations giving rise to shorter fibres that were less bundled.

These results suggest an important role for engineered catalytic particles in the molecular self-assembly of next-generation soft nanomaterials and devices, say the researchers.


  1. Hirst, R. A. et al. Biocatalytic induction of supramolecular order. Nature Chem. doi: 10.1038/nchem.861 (2010)