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Researchers closer to biosensors based on proteins.

Researchers Closer To Biosensors Based On Proteins Biosensors that use genetically engineered proteins are a step closer to reality as a result of research at the Univ. of Illinois, Champaign.

The researchers have developed a method for genetically engineering a protein's specific linker site, which serves as the bridge between the protein and any surface.

"The idea is to control the orientation of these molecules in such a way that they can interact with the surface and with each other," says Stephen Sligar, a chemist working on the project.

"This accomplishment is a small first step toward widespread use of proteins in new materials," Sligar adds.

The proteins could be used to build biosensors that measure the amounts of insulin or glucose in the body and signal the wearer of the sensor when levels reach preset limts, Sligar says.

Because proteins can conduct electricity, they also could be used in optical processing, memory devices, and microprocessors.

The proteins can transfer electrons quickly without producing the amount of heat found in traditional electronic devices.

"One of the problems with semiconductor devices is that, while they can transmit electrical signals very fast, they are limited 'sensing' their environment," Sligar says.

Proteins, however, "are exquisitely designed by Mother Nature to sense their environment," says Paul Bohn, another project chemist. For example, Bohn says, because proteins have charged amino acid residues on the surface, they could rotate on a plane to minimize electrostatic repulsions with their neighbors.

Sligar adds, "With genetic engineering, we can create protein molecules that recognize specific molecules, thus creating an analog to the receptor-mediated senses of smell or taste."

The challenge is controlling what the proteins sense and how they react, Bohn says.

The next step, Sligar says, is to monitor the physical and chemical properties of genetically and chemical properties of genetically engineered protein monolayers to see how they behave. Additional research will focus on controlling the assembly of molecules in two dimensions and incorporating more than one protein at a time in an array.

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Title Annotation:biosensors that use genetically engineered proteins
Publication:R & D
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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