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Engineered mosaic protein polymers; a simple route to multifunctional biomaterials

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Daniel PetersORCiD, Dr Helen WallerORCiD, Dr Mark Birch, Professor Jeremy LakeyORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2019 The Author(s). Background: Engineered living materials (ELMs) are an exciting new frontier, where living organisms create highly functional materials. In particular, protein ELMs have the advantage that their properties can be manipulated via simple molecular biology. Caf1 is a protein ELM that is especially attractive as a biomaterial on account of its unique combination of properties: bacterial cells export it as a massive, modular, non-covalent polymer which is resistant to thermal and chemical degradation and free from animal material. Moreover, it is biologically inert, allowing the bioactivity of each 15 kDa monomeric Caf1 subunit to be specifically engineered by mutagenesis and co-expressed in the same Escherichia coli cell to produce a mixture of bioactive Caf1 subunits. Results: Here, we show by gel electrophoresis and transmission electron microscopy that the bacterial cells combine these subunits into true mosaic heteropolymers. By combining two separate bioactive motifs in a single mosaic polymer we demonstrate its utility by stimulating the early stages of bone formation by primary human bone marrow stromal cells. Finally, using a synthetic biology approach, we engineer a mosaic of three components, demonstrating that Caf1 complexity depends solely upon the variety of monomers available. Conclusions: These results demonstrate the utility of engineered Caf1 mosaic polymers as a simple route towards the production of multifunctional biomaterials that will be useful in biomedical applications such as 3D tissue culture and wound healing. Additionally, in situ Caf1 producing cells could create complex bacterial communities for biotechnology. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Publication metadata

Author(s): Peters DT, Waller H, Birch MA, Lakey JH

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Biological Engineering

Year: 2019

Volume: 13

Online publication date: 18/06/2019

Acceptance date: 03/06/2019

Date deposited: 02/07/2019

ISSN (electronic): 1754-1611

Publisher: BioMed Central Ltd


DOI: 10.1186/s13036-019-0183-2


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Funder referenceFunder name
BB/M018318/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)