Report: Proteins can be engineered as widely adaptable 'bioelectronic' sensors

l protein acts like a hinge, such that when a chemical plugs into the active site, the hinge closes, switching on the distant metabolic signal.

"Since hinge-bending motions are easy to understand, they are easy to manipulate," said Hellinga. In one experiment, for example, the scientists altered a bacterial maltose binding protein, tethering to it a metal ruthenium group that would produce a voltage when its conformation was altered. Thus, when they coated a gold electrode with the proteins and added maltose, that sugar altered the proteins' conformation, producing an electric current proportionate to the maltose concentration.

To demonstrate the generality of their "hinge-bending" mechanism, the scientists created additional bioelectronic sensors using other proteins that responded specifically to glucose and glutamine. And as a demonstration of the extreme adaptability of their system, they radically redesigned the maltose binding protein active site so that it acted as a zinc detector.

Finally, to show that their biosensors could function in complex mixtures without being "confused" by related chemicals or fouled by contaminants, the scientists showed that their bioelectronic sensors could specifically measure maltose concentrations in beer and glucose concentrations in human blood serum.

"We believe that these experiments in real-life mixtures dramatically demonstrated that the chemistry of these systems is very robust and specific, and does not suffer fouling by the multitude of other substances in such mixtures," Hellinga said.


Contact: Monte Basgall
Duke University

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