The finding that the protein components, called “ankyrin repeats,” exhibit such unprecedented elastic properties could lead to a new understanding of how organisms, including humans, sense and respond to physical forces at the cellular level, the researchers said. The nanometer-sized springs are also ideal candidates for building biologically-inspired springy nanostructures and nanomaterials with an inherent ability to self-repair, they reported. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.
“Whereas other known proteins can act like floppy springs, ankyrin molecules behave more like steel,” said Piotr Marszalek, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the Duke Pratt School of Engineering. “After repeated stretching, the molecules immediately refold themselves, retaining their shape and strength.”
“The fully extended molecules not only bounce back to their original shape in real time, but they also generate force in the process of this rapid refolding Ã¢â‚¬â€œ something that had never been seen before,” added HHMI investigator Vann Bennett, professor of cell biology at Duke University Medical Center. “It’s the equivalent of un-boiling an egg.”
I never get tired of these kinds of stories. As nanotechnology becomes more and more a lucrative economic goal, more and more of these studies will be done, and more and more the ‘solutions’ that nature provides to nanostructure problems will be implemented into the growing “School of Nanotechnology Architecture.” At some point, I think scientists will be forced to admit that nature has the hallmark of just the kinds of elemental design features that they incorporate into their own nano-level machines. And, of course, the question becomes: whence the design.