A squid protein could revolutionise the manufacture of biologically inspired devices. (Photo: Stock File)
Squid skin protein can boost bioelectronics
Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 03:40 (GMT + 9)
A team of researchers has discovered that reflectin, a protein in the skin of the common pencil squid (Loliginidae) can conduct positive electrical charges, or protons, making it a promising material for building biologically inspired devices.
This discovery, developed by University of California Irving (UCI), could lead to better ion- or proton-conducting materials: for instance, next-generation implants that could relay electrical messages to the nervous system to monitor or interfere with the progression of disease.
"Nature is really good at doing certain things that we sometimes find incredibly difficult. Perhaps nature has already optimized reflectin to conduct protons, so we can learn from this protein and take advantage of natural design principles," pointed out Alon Gorodetsky, assistant professor of chemical engineering & materials science at The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, leader of the research team.
Gorodetsky and his group have been studying reflectin to discern how it enables squid to change colour and reflect light. They produced the squid protein in common bacteria and used it to make thin films on a silicon substrate.
The team leader believes reflectin has several advantages for biological electronics and as it's a soft biomaterial, it may be less likely to be rejected by the human body. In addition, protein engineering principles could be utilized to modify reflectin for very specific purposes and to allow the protein to decompose when no longer needed.
"We plan to use reflectin as a template for the development of improved ion- and proton-conducting materials," Gorodetsky stressed.
And he added: "We hope to evolve this protein for optimum functionality in specific devices – such as transistors used for interfacing with neural cells – similar to how proteins evolve for specific tasks in nature."
The research is published in the July issue of Nature Chemistry. Co-authors are David Ordinario, Long Phan, Ward Walkup, Jonah-Micah Jocson, Emil Karshalev and Nina Husken of UCI.