Indian-Origin Scientists Isolate ‘Smart’ Protein from Nerve Cells, with Huge Future Potential

Sanjay Kumar, an Indian-origin scientist, has succeeded to isolate “smart” material from the protein taken from nerve cells that would usher in a new era into making biological sensors, flow valves and controlled drug release systems.

"We created a new class of smart, protein-based materials whose structural principles are inspired by networks found in living cells," said Sanjay Kumar of University of California Berkeley, specializing in bioengineering. The material he found helps develop new types of micro-fluidic devices to handle and process liquid of very small volumes like saliva or testing blood in small quantities.

Kumar and his team, which consisted of Indian-origin students — Nithya Srinivasan, Maniraj Bhagawati, and Badriprasad Ananthanarayanan — worked on developing a biological equivalent to synthetic coating used in paint and liquid cosmetics, to keep small particles from clumping together, known as polymer brushes.

These brushes almost universally feature synthetic polymers, which are often heterogeneous and do not readily allow incorporation of chemical functionalities at precise sites along the constituent chains, said teh abstract of the study that was published in the science journal Nature Communications.

"We co-opted this protein and turned it into a polymer brush by cloning a portion of a gene that encodes one of the neurofilament bristles, re-engineering it such that we could attach the resulting protein to surfaces in a precise and oriented way, and then expressing the gene in bacteria to produce the protein in large, pure quantities," said Kumar. "We showed that our ‘protein brush’ had all the key properties of synthetic brushes, plus a number of advantages," Kumar said.

Kumar noted that neurofilaments are good candidates for protein brushes because they are intrinsically disordered proteins and far easier to control compared with their synthetic counterparts.

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