Scientists have for the first time reengineered a building block of a geometric nanocompartment that occurs naturally in bacteria. The new design provides an entirely new functionality that greatly expands the potential for these compartments to serve as custom-made chemical factories.
Scientists have for the first time viewed how bacterial proteins self-assemble into thin sheets and begin to form the walls of the outer shell for nano-sized polyhedral compartments that function as specialized factories. The research provides new clues for scientists seeking to use these 3-D structures as “nanoreactors” to selectively suck in toxins or churn out desired products.
Scientists aspire to build nanostructures that mimic the complexity and function of nature’s proteins, but are made of durable and synthetic materials. These microscopic widgets could be customized into incredibly sensitive chemical detectors or long-lasting catalysts, to name a few possible applications. A discovery by Berkeley Lab scientists is a step in that direction.
With the advent of new technology, scientific facilities are collecting data at increasing rates and higher resolution. However, making sense of this data is becoming a major bottleneck. To address these growing needs, the Department of Energy has announced approval of a grant of $10.5 million over three years to expand the Center for Advanced Mathematics for Energy Research Applications at Berkeley Lab.
Berkeley Lab researchers have incorporated molecules of porphyrin CO2 catalysts into the sponge-like crystals of covalent organic frameworks (COFs) to create a molecular system that not only absorbs CO2, but also selectively reduces it to CO, a primary building block for a wide range of chemical products.
A comprehensive understanding of complex nanostructures—like proteins and viruses—could lead to breakthroughs in some of the most challenging problems in biology and medicine. But because these objects are a thousand times smaller than the width of human hair, scientists can’t directly see into them to determine their shape and function.