MoBioC 2022 Seminar Series: Prof. Thomas Hermans (Universite de Strasbourg)

Image: Prof. Hermans
Prof. Hermans

Date: 2 March 2022

Controlling self-assembly by chemical fuels

Looking at nature, we see that living materials with biological functionality, such as the actin or microtubule (MT) cytoskeletal network, achieve dynamics as well as supramolecular structures with the same protein building blocks. In other words, the components can assemble, but also react (i.e., tubulin is also an enzyme that hydrolyses guanosine triphosphate GTP), which in turn affects the assemblies. In this way, living systems use chemical fuels (e.g., GTP) and self-assembly to create a built-in chemomechanical interaction. Moreover, such networks operate in sustained out-of-equilibrium states at the onset of oscillations,1–3 which results in rapid response and adaptivity. Here, we present our recent4–6 reaction cycles in solution and gels, where interesting new behaviors were found, such as supramolecular size oscillations, traveling polymerization, or transient disassembly. We hope such reaction cycles form the basis of new life-like materials where material properties are fuel (and waste) dependent.

Keywords:self-assembly, nonequilibrium, supramolecular polymer


1. Obermann, H., Mandelkow, E. M., Lange, G. & Mandelkow, E. Microtubule oscillations. Role of nucleation and microtubule number concentration. Journal of Biological Chemistry 265, 4382–4388 (1990).

2. Valiron, O., Caudron, N. & Job, D. Microtubule dynamics. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences CMLS 58, 2069–2084 (2001).

3. Westendorf, C. et al. Actin cytoskeleton of chemotactic amoebae operates close to the onset of oscillations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, 3853–3858 (2013).

4. Singh, N., Lainer, B., Formon, G. J. M., De Piccoli, S. & Hermans, T. M. Re-programming Hydrogel Properties Using a Fuel-Driven Reaction Cycle. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 142, 4083–4087 (2020).

5. Leira-Iglesias, J., Tassoni, A., Adachi, T., Stich, M. & Hermans, T. M. Oscillations, travelling fronts and patterns in a supramolecular system. Nature Nanotechnology 13, 1021 (2018).

6. Early view (2022).

Updated by: Julien Gautrot