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Biomimetic Welding

Researchers from IBS have patented a method of biological welding based on their study of pneumococcal pili.
Published on 30 May 2017

Exploring the realm of the living leads to discoveries that sometimes unexpectedly lead to patentable inventions. Since 2008, a team from IBS has been focusing on the "pili" in pneumococcus, a major pathogenic bacterium for humans. This bacterium exposes pili on its surface; i.e., very stable protein extensions several micrometers in length and resembling very fine hairs. They make it possible for pneumococcus to adhere to upper respiratory tissue—a prerequisite for potential infection.

"In collaboration with another team from IBS, we determined the mechanisms of assembly of the pilus on the surface of the pneumococcus, the structure of the three types of proteins that compose it and the overall pilus architecture" said Thierry Vernet, researcher at IBS. "The high-resolution structure of these proteins revealed the reason for the unusual stability of the pilus: the unusual presence of covalent bonds (particularly strong chemical bonds) between amino acids within these proteins." To test and reproduce this phenomenon, the scientists synthesized two small sub-domains of one of the pilus proteins connected by this unusual binding. They demonstrated that these two artificial proteins, named Jo and In, maintained their ability to bind (to become "JoIn") spontaneously in a covalent manner, both in vitro and in vivo. This BioMolecular Welding (BMW) technology has led to a patent for several independent applications, including the detection and localization of proteins on the cell's surface, the construction of macromolecular assemblies and the production of antibodies against membrane proteins. Other developments are being studied (e.g., molecular adhesives, construction of "bouquets" of proteins, chromatography, surface functionalization, and nanomaterials).

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