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Protein engineering as a source of sustainable materials

Grant number: 17/23851-7
Support type:Research Grants - Visiting Researcher Grant - International
Duration: August 01, 2018 - June 30, 2019
Field of knowledge:Engineering - Chemical Engineering - Chemical Technology
Principal researcher:Marisa Masumi Beppu
Grantee:Marisa Masumi Beppu
Visiting researcher: Bradley Olsen
Visiting researcher institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), United States
Home Institution: Faculdade de Engenharia Química (FEQ). Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). Campinas , SP, Brazil


Nature provides great inspiration for science, having developed lightweight materials for flight, low drag surfaces, and strong fibers that altogether impress and inspire us. Many of these structures rely on proteins, macromolecules that fold and hierarchically assemble into exquisite structures, suitable for uses in medicine, security, energy, and sustainability. Molecular biology allows scientists to program artificial genes, to produce biosynthetic polymers with almost arbitrary combinations of the 20 natural amino acids, and a plethora of unnatural resides. While our ability to construct a myriad of protein materials is already well-developed, our understanding of the materials engineering and physics of these systems lags significantly. As an example, proteins demonstrate capabilities far beyond what is achievable with synthetic polymers due to their sequence-specific chemistry, enabling them to fold into the complex hierarchical structures which give rise to their function and make them attractive for materials applications. Because protein materials are produced by synthetic biology, their expression level and purification method vary dramatically with even small changes in their sequences, meaning that the synthetic approach used must be individually optimized for each protein, substantially slowing the cycle of innovation in protein-based systems. Given the active development of high throughput research technologies and directed evolution methodologies in synthetic biology, there is, therefore, an excellent opportunity to address scientific gaps and enable a much more rapid innovation cycle in the field. The goal of this project is to take steps in transforming the field of protein materials into a broad platform for scalable materials engineering. To accomplish this, Prof. Bradley D. Olsen from the Chemical Engineering Department at MIT will be collaborating as a visiting professor at the School of Chemical Engineering at UNICAMP from August 2018 to June 2019, to support the development of newly protein-based materials through several collaborations with academic institutions from the state of São Paulo. The research project will focus on three aims that address fundamental and technological aspects of protein-based materials: 1. To develop design rules to help predict whether or not a given protein can be successfully synthesized. Model sets of highly similar protein materials will be systematically analyzed to determine which factors are affecting their expression, aiming to speed the rate of protein materials discovery; 2. To perform a production and cost analysis of protein-based materials that will provide insight into potential markets for these new materials and that will suggest process-oriented research topics that have the potential to change the production cost of them; 3. To produce recombinant proteins produced via synthetic biology for layer-by-layer assembly into materials, combining the biological functionality of these systems with this flexible and tunable coating method, aiming the development of materials for clinical use. Prof. Olsen is one of the leading early career researchers in the areas of polymer science and protein-based materials, having published over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles in less than 8 years as a professor. He is also an author on 10 awarded and pending patents and has mentored more than 40 graduate students. In the last years, Prof. Olsen has been conducted several collaborations with Brazilian researchers, various technical visits and short-term courses in Brazilian academic institutions, besides organizing the 1st Pan-American Polymer Science Conference on March 2017, evidencing his genuine interest in creating long-term collaborations with the Brazilian academic society. This scenario leads to favorable conditions to conduct this project in a way to deliver promising results and meaningful advances in the edge of materials science and engineering. (AU)

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