Catch bonds are one of Nature’s truly remarkable designs, which exhibit increased adhesive force as tensile force is applied, in contrast to traditional slip bonds whose adhesive force decreases under similar conditions. On reaching a maximum applied force, the catch bond then reverts to traditional slip bond behaviour resulting in a catch-and-roll type action that bacteria and cells use to move in a targeted fashion along a particular surface. The current research project aims to transplant this behaviour from bacterial systems into bio-based synthetic polymer networks, allowing the development of truly biomimetic mechanically adaptable materials. The aims of the project will be achieved by exploring a number of recently identified bacterial catch bonds, isolating the specific amino acid sequence responsible for this behaviour and using them to functionalise bio-based polymer chains. Using the receptor-ligand complexes specific to each bacterial adhesive, dynamic polymer networks will be constructed that display an adaptable response to force as observed in bacterial catch bonds. This represents an important area of research, for whilst the observation of ‘catch’ bond behaviour is relatively recent, their ability to revolutionise biomimetic materials is enormous. Their behaviour under stress is reminiscent of that of smooth muscle during peristaltic motion and materials mimicking this behaviour have the potential to drive new developments in synthetic organ and disease model research. Thoughout this project, fundamental insights will be gained into the intrinsic workings of bacterial catch bonds, specifically environmental factors affecting their behaviour, as well as how their behaviour is modified or scaled by inclusion in a macroscale material. The interdisciplinary project aims to push the boundaries of biology and materials science, from the molecular to the macroscale.
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