GEMSEC’s interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers design and synthesize peptide-based molecular materials for technology and medicine. 

Dr. Mehmet Sarikaya

Director, GEMSEC

"Our ability to develop nano- and molecular materials through the controlled manipulation of peptides will allow genetic design of practical engineered systems that will revolutionize the way we perform materials science and engineering in this century."

Based on lessons from biology, we use combinatorial biology techniques (phage display and cell surface display) to select surface-specific polypeptides with high avidity to materials, and then to use these Genetically Engineered Proteins for Inorganics (GEPIs) for assembling functional nanostructures for optical and electronic applications. We call this polydisciplinary approach Molecular Biomimetics.

Proteins are the major biomolecules performing a myriad of specific functions that make biology viable. Similarly, GEMSEC-developed GEPIs (genetically engineered peptides for inorganic materials) are the fundamental building blocks in Molecular Biomimetics. Adapting biology to practical engineering, GEMSEC researchers genetically design and construct peptides as molecular synthesizers, linkers, and assemblers to better control biology/materials interfaces. GEMSEC harnesses this fundamental knowledge to engineer novel materials and devices beyond what MSE can accomplish today. 

GEMSEC’s interdisciplinary scientists work at the confluence of physical sciences (chemistry and physics), biological sciences (molecular biology and genetics) and materials engineering (metals, ceramics, semiconductors, and polymers). Drawing on this wide expertise, GEMSEC is well equipped to discover the fundamentals of peptide-enabled material formation, controlled molecular self-assembly, and nanostructures for designed and addressable functions. 

Molecular recognition, material selectivity and self-assembly are key to the utility of engineered peptides.

GEMSEC researchers are exploring and discovering genetically-designed, peptide-based molecular materials.

GEPIs link, erect, and assemble nano- and molecular materials to create tailored functionality.

Genetic Selection of Peptides
Peptides as Molecular Building Blocks
Peptide-Guided Molecular Technologies

GEMSEC Research

Bioinformatics (de novo) Design
Tissue Engineering
Biology and Solid-State Devices

The marriage of materials and biological worlds at the molecular dimensions.

[Click on a research area to learn more]

Research Focus

With wisdom gained from long experience, Mother Nature has evolved mechanisms of simplicity and elegance to synthesize soft and hard tissues exhibiting remarkable functional properties. Nature achieves these feats of engineering by making use of molecular building blocks and by controlling material assembly in a hierarchical manner from the nano- to the macroscale. With a growing understanding of the processes involved came the realization that biological principles may have applications for solving problems in human-made systems. Traditionally, biomimeticists have focused on emulating or duplicating biosystems using mostly synthetic components and conventional approaches. By merging recent advances in molecular biology and genetics with state-of-the-art engineering and characterization from the physical sciences, our goal is to shift the biomimetic materials science paradigm from imitating Nature to designing and engineering natural materials to perform artificial functions. In this Center, we combine Nature's proven molecular tools with synthetic nanoscale constructs to make molecular biomimetics a full-fledged methodology. To this end, we have assembled a multidisciplinary team with expertise in diverse and synergistic areas ranging from molecular biology and chemistry to materials sciences and engineering.

GEPI as Molecular Synthesizers – Materialization

Inorganic materials synthesized by biological organisms (though biomineralization) often posses unique morphological and structural properties and are ideal models in designing functional engineering materials. Using molecular biomimetics protocols, we biocombinatorially selected more than 50 hydroxyapatite binding peptides and used certain ones to control formation and morphogenesis of phosphate-based minerals, inorganic components of bone and dental tissues, for the purpose of using the developed protocols towards tissue repair and/or engineering. 

GEPI as Molecular Erectors

Alkaline Phosphatase (AP), as many natural proteins, favor a denatured state at solid interfaces. Here, 5rGBP1 is genetically fused to act as a molecular erector as well as an interfacing buffer-zone to orient and maintain the natured state of AP. Fig B shows discretely bound AP via 5rGBP1 while Fig E shows WT-AP agglomerating and unnatured on the gold surface.

GEPI as Molecular Assemblers

Simultaneous peptide-directed immobilization of optical active nanostructures and fluorophores on the same nanosphere lithography (NSL)-treated substrate. Schematic (A); dark field image of NSL substrate (B, left top); QDots (red) on gold via gold-binding peptide (B, right top); FITC (green) on glass via quartz-binding peptide (B, left bottom); overlay fluorescent image (B, right bottom). 

In Silico Design of Novel Inorganic Binding Peptides

The robust utility of genetically engineered peptides for inorganics (GEPI) in practical nanotechnology and medicine requires labor-intensive selection, using genetic tools, and characterization, via advanced microscopy and spectroscopy. Based on the experimental knowledge, a developed in silico protocol provides a means to design novel peptide sequences with enhanced binding affinity and multifunctionality. The new approach has great potential of accelerating the utility of GEPI as synthesizers and assemblers of nanoinroganics with applications as molecular probes in biological and chemical sensing, as scaffolds in regenerative medicine, and as platforms in nanobiophotonics.