Scientists have assembled an artificial muscle from natural proteins

(ORDO NEWS) — A two-layer, fully biocompatible structure of elastin protein filaments is able to contract, expending chemical energy, and return to its original shape.

Scientists at the University of Freiburg in Germany have created an artificial muscle from elastin, a common animal protein. It is able to shrink under the influence of temperature and acidity of the environment and is completely biocompatible.

Theoretically, in the future, such muscles can be used in regenerative medicine, restoring fragments of irretrievably lost tissues.

Elastin is a fibrillar, filament-like protein found in connective tissue. It forms an intercellular scaffold that supports cellular structures, directs their growth and migration of individual cells. It is elastin that gives elasticity to the skin, the walls of blood vessels, the bladder and other tissues.

Scientists from Freiburg slightly changed the amino acid sequence of elastin, obtaining two similar molecules, one of which reacts to the acidity (pH) of the environment, and the other to temperature; using photochemical reactions, both chains were crosslinked into a two-layer structure.

In the presence of a chemical energy source (in this case, sodium sulfite), such proteins are able to reversibly change their structure. Following the fluctuations in pH, one of them contracts and stretches again, forcing the entire such muscle to bend, then return to its original shape, turning chemical energy into mechanical movement.

These fluctuations can be “turned on” and “turned off” by additional temperature exposure, providing the artificial muscle with a “memory effect”.

According to scientists, in the future it will be possible to create analogues of this system, capable of responding to other environmental stimuli, as well as using other chemical compounds as energy sources.

Programmable muscles can be used not only in medicine, but also in robotics. In the meantime, machine developers are experimenting with whole living muscle cells, setting their devices in motion.

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