Decoding How Molecules “Talk” to Each Other To Develop New Nanotechnologies
Scientists recreate and compare molecular languages at the origin of life.
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Two molecular languages at the origin of life have been successfully recreated and mathematically validated, thanks to pioneering work by Canadian scientists at Université de Montréal.
Published this week in the Journal of American Chemical Society, the breakthrough opens new doors for the development of nanotechnologies with applications ranging from biosensing, drug delivery and molecular imaging.
Living organisms are made up of billions of nanomachines and nanostructures that communicate to create higher-order entities able to do many essential things, such as moving, thinking, surviving and reproducing.
“The key to life’s emergence relies on the development of molecular languages – also called signalling mechanisms – which ensure that all molecules in living organisms are working together to achieve specific tasks," said the study's principal investigator, UdeM bioengineering professor Alexis Vallée-Bélisle.
In yeasts, for example, upon detecting and binding a mating pheromone, billions of molecules will communicate and coordinate their activities to initiate union, said Vallée-Bélisle, holder of a Canada Research Chair in Bioengineering and Bionanotechnology.
“As we enter the era of nanotechnology, many scientists believe that the key to designing and programming more complex and useful artificial nanosystems relies on our ability to understand and better employ molecular languages developed by living organisms,” he said.
Simple mathematical equations to detect antibodies
The researchers found that simple mathematical equations could well describe both languages, which unravelled the parameters and design rules to program the communication between molecules within a nanosystem.
For example, while the multivalent language enabled control of both the sensitivity and cooperativity of the activation or deactivation of the molecules, the corresponding allosteric translation only enabled control of the sensitivity of the response.
With this new understanding at hand, the researchers used the language of multivalency to design and engineer a programmable antibody sensor that allows the detection of antibodies over different ranges of concentration.
“As shown with the recent pandemic, our ability to precisely monitor the concentration of antibodies in the general population is a powerful tool to determine the people's individual and collective immunity,” said Vallée-Bélisle.
In addition to expanding the synthetic toolbox to create the next generation of nanotechnology, the scientist’s discovery also shines a light on why some natural nanosystems may have selected one language over another to communicate chemical information.
Reference: Lauzon D, Vallée-Bélisle A. Programing chemical communication: Allostery vs multivalent mechanism. J Am Chem Soc. 2023:jacs.3c04045. doi: 10.1021/jacs.3c04045
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