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Issue 20, 2012
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Self-assembly of artificial microtubules

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Understanding the complex self-assembly of biomacromolecules is a major outstanding question. Microtubules are one example of a biopolymer that possesses characteristics quite distinct from standard synthetic polymers that are derived from its hierarchical structure. In order to understand how to design and build artificial polymers that possess features similar to those of microtubules, we have initially studied the self-assembly of model monomers into a tubule geometry. Our model monomer has a wedge shape with lateral and vertical binding sites that are designed to form tubules. We used molecular dynamics simulations to study the assembly process for a range of binding site interaction strengths. In addition to determining the optimal regime for obtaining tubules, we have calculated a diagram of the structures that form over a wide range of interaction strengths. Unexpectedly, we find that the helical tubules form, even though the monomer geometry is designed for nonhelical tubules. We present the detailed dynamics of the tubule self-assembly process and show that the interaction strengths must be in a limited range to allow rearrangement within clusters. We extended previous theoretical methods to treat our system and to calculate the boundaries between different structures in the diagram.

Graphical abstract: Self-assembly of artificial microtubules

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Article information

10 Jan 2012
09 Mar 2012
First published
16 Apr 2012

Soft Matter, 2012,8, 5666-5678
Article type

Self-assembly of artificial microtubules

S. Cheng, A. Aggarwal and M. J. Stevens, Soft Matter, 2012, 8, 5666
DOI: 10.1039/C2SM25068C

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