Two Tel Aviv University scientists hope their pioneering research in nanotechnology will eventually lead to advanced biosensors for use in homeland security, environmental monitoring and medicine.
Prof. Ehud Gazit and Meital Reches of TAU's George S. Weiss Faculty of Life Sciences used small protein fragments called dipeptides to produce a "forest" of strong nanoscale tubes that spontaneously assembled on areas the size of a pin-head.
Their work on universal nanotube platforms has been featured as a cover story in the December issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
In a separate editorial in the journal, Prof. Shuguang Zhang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Biomedical Engineering praised the Israelis' work and said it could have applications in treating bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow disease") and degenerative human diseases such as Alzheimer's and type 2 diabetes.
The self-assembled nanotubes show remarkable chemical stability and physical rigidity, exhibiting physical strength similar to that of Kevlar, which is used for bulletproof vests.
Biosensors, which are very sensitive and specific detectors of biological materials, are one of the most promising applications for the research. Peptide nanotubes have already been shown to considerably improve the performances of electrochemical biosensors.
As the tubes are rigid and stable and can be integrated into electronic devices, they are perfect building blocks for next-generation sensors combining biology, chemistry and engineering, Gazit said.
The two scientists developed a simple and efficient way to create new functional materials, according to the article in Nature Nanotechnology.
Ramot, TAU's technology transfer company, has applied for a patent on the nanotubes' structure, their self-assembly formation and their wide range of applications; the technology is available for licensing. Gazit said he and Reches were very pleased that since they started their nanotube research, teams in the US, Norway and other countries had entered the field.