Scientists have engineered proteins to form fractal geometric shapes with never-ending patterns, closely resembling those found in nature. The protein patterns could have applications in next-generation biomaterials.

Fractal geometric shapes make extremely useful biomaterials as they have large surface to volume ratios, allowing rapid exchange of materials. This makes them ideal for applications both in biosensors, as they have high detection sensitivity, and in artificial organs. Incorporating proteins into biomaterials makes them able to self-assemble and allow greater versatility.

The scientists first designed the proteins computationally. They aimed to create different self-assembled shapes, and each shape was based on a uniquely designed protein molecule. Thousands of the same identical protein molecules bound together to make the geometric shape. On the computer programme, the optimum number and position of binding sites was determined for each protein type.

Gene coding for the proteins were encoded into e-coli cells. The proteins were phosphorylated, which allowed them to bind together and self-assemble. The scientists were able to make shapes of trees, leaves and pineapples. By manipulating the shape dimensions, the scientists were also able to make shapes resembling flowers and snowflakes.

Next the scientists aim to explore the diversity of shapes they can create and investigate different stimuli to initiate the self-assembly. Both insights would allow greater control over the assembly of the proteins allowing biomaterials well adapted to a range of functions.