Controllable amino acid polymerisation
A microfluidic system for polymerising amino acids, which could prompt a big step forward in biopolymer synthesis, has been developed by scientists in Japan.
Polymer properties, such as average molecular weight, are hard to control during polymerisations, and cause time-consuming problems for commercialising useful polymers.
Now, Masaya Miyazaki and colleagues at the Nanotechnology Research Institute, Saga, have developed a microreactor that allows amino acid polymerisation to be easily controlled.
In Miyazaki's microreactor, the reagents for the polymerisation are fed into a micromixer by two syringes operated by a syringe pump. This allows the reagents to flow into the micromixer at closely controlled rates, which in turn controls the molecular mass of the polymer produced. Another benefit of the system is that it is cheap to produce, raising the possibility of disposable devices in the future.
The most well-known amino acid polymers are naturally occurring proteins, but artificial poly-amino acids with specific properties have also been intensively researched and developed. Lysine-based polymers can stick to cells and have potential for drug delivery to specific places in the body. Properties like these have made poly-amino acids very important in biomedical research and tissue engineering.
Although further improvements to the new system are needed, Miyazaki expects the technique will eventually be useful for making other biomaterials.
T Honda et al, Lab Chip, 2005, 5, 812 (DOI: 10.1039/b505137a)