The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » Monthly - June 3, 2015
Biology
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Materials That Mimic Nature
   
A researcher from the Wroc³aw Medical University in southern Poland is working on a method to combine metals with peptides with a view to creating new biomimetic materials—materials that imitate or are modeled on biological structures.

Biomimetic materials, or biomimetics, are materials developed using inspiration from nature and useful in areas such as tissue engineering. For example, they can be applied as scaffolds for tissue regeneration.
Metals such as iron, copper and zinc ions all play a key role in vital biological processes, but many aspects of their interaction with proteins and medicines are yet to be fathomed out. In his research, £ukasz Szyrwiel, Ph.D., is using different techniques to understand processes involving these metals.

Szyrwiel says the homeostasis of metal ions in biological systems is usually determined by how they interact with proteins and peptides. Homeostasis is the tendency of a system, especially the physiological system of higher animals, to maintain internal stability. “Finding out how these processes work could be crucial to understanding the role metal ions play in living organisms,” says Szyrwiel. “To this end, researchers are designing peptide models to watch and study these interactions using different analytical methods.”

Szyrwiel has been able to carry out his project in part thanks to a grant from the Foundation for Polish Science, awarded under the foundation’s Pomost program.

The unique structure of the compounds Szyrwiel designs makes his research highly innovative. “Most peptide-based biomimetic materials invented so far are essentially linear structures,” says Szyrwiel. “Think of a rope that you can coil into a ball or scramble in many different ways. But systems with such a linear design have their limitations. When you split the ropes, you can obtain new compounds with completely new properties.”

Split peptide chains form far more stable complexes. The properties of the new compounds and the innovative and developing field of research have brought more partners into the project, which now involves three research teams from Poland, Hungary and Japan. The project has received zl.220,300 from the Foundation for Polish Science and will run until the end of this year.

Peptides are molecules consisting of two or more amino acids. Peptides are smaller than proteins, which are also chains of amino acids. Molecules small enough to be synthesized from the constituent amino acids are called peptides rather than proteins.

Karolina Olszewska