Professor Wilson and his team have used a foldamer – a polymer that folds in a predictable way – to replace a section of the protein. They found that the protein was still able to perform its intended function – albeit less efficiently.
The field is in its early days, but Professor Wilson believes that one day we will be able to use this knowledge to build molecular machines to use in everything from biotechnology and healthcare to materials.
"Learning how to systematically build functional complex molecules piece-by-piece is a fundamental challenge and passing this frontier will represent a milestone in being able synthesise complex life-like systems", he says.
"What we have done is analogous to replacement of a body part such as a hip replacement. Right now what we have achieved is prosthesis, in that we have replaced part of the protein with something that ‘manages the job’ but as we move forward the vision would be to create a bionic protein, that is something that has advantageous or superior properties and function."
This article is free to read in our open access, flagship journal Chemical Science: Andrew J. Wilson et al., Chem. Sci., 2019, Advance Article. DOI: 10.1039/C9SC00374F. You can access our 2019 ChemSci Picks in this article collection. Read more like this