MRS Bulletin

Technical Feature

Technical Feature

Molecular Design of Inorganic-Binding Polypeptides

John Spencer Evans, Ram Samudrala, Tiffany R. Walsh, Ersin Emre Oren and Candan Tamerler


Controlled binding and assembly of peptides onto inorganic substrates is at the core of bionanotechnology and biological-materials engineering. Peptides offer several unique advantages for developing future inorganic materials and systems. First, engineered polypeptides can molecularly recognize inorganic surfaces that are distinguishable by shape, crystallography, mineralogy, and chemistry. Second, polypeptides are capable of self-assembly on specific material surfaces leading to addressable molecular architectures. Finally, genetically engineered peptides offer multiple strategies for their functional modification. In this article, we summarize the details and mechanisms involved in combinatorial-polypeptide sequence selection and inorganic-material recognition and affinity, and outline experimental and theoretical approaches and concepts that will help advance this emerging field.

John Spencer Evans is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at New York University and works in the area of protein-mediated biomineralization and genetically engineered peptides. Evans received his PhD degree in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. The major focus of his research is the contributions of polypeptide structure to the functional aspects of biomineraliza-tion and nanotechnology proteins using nuclear magnetic resonance sprectroscopy and other biophysical techniques. Evans is considered the world expert in this area. His current funding spans the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Department of Energy. Evans' awards include Young Investigator Awards from the Whitaker Foundation and the Office of Army Research, and a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.

Evans can be reached at the Laboratory for Chemical Physics, New York University, 345 E. 24th St., New York, NY 10010, USA; tel. 212–998–9605; fax 212–995–4087; e-mail

Ram Samudrala is an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology at UW. Using computational approaches, his research is directed at understanding protein folding, structure, function, and evolution—at the singlemolecule level as well as the genomic, proteomic, and organismal levels. Samudrala's work has led to more than 70 publications and freely reproducible software for molecular and systems modeling. His research is funded by the NIH, the NSF, the Gates Foundation, and the UW Advanced Technology Initiative in Infectious Diseases. Samudrala's honors include the NSF CAREER award (2005). Also, he was named one of the world's top young innovators (TR100) by MIT Technology Review (2003), he was the UW New Investigator Science in Medicine Lecturer (2004), and he is a Searle Scholar.

Samudrala can be reached at the Department of Microbiology, PO Box 357242 University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195–7242, USA; tel. 206–732–6122, fax 206–732–6055; e-mail

Tiffany R. Walsh is an associate professor in theoretical/computational chemistry and holds a joint position in the Chemistry Department and the Centre for Scientific Computing at the University of Warwick (UK). She earned her PhD degree in theoretical chemistry at the University of Cambridge and then held a Glasstone Fellowship in the Department of Materials at the University of Oxford. Walsh is active in the area of biomolecule-inorganic simulation and is a member of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-funded Materials Modeling Consortium, “Modeling the Biological Interface with Materials.”

Walsh can be reached at the Department of Chemistry, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK; tel. +44–24–765–74448; fax +44–24–764–24112; e-mail

Ersin Emre Oren is a research associate in the Genetically Engineered Materials Science and Engineering Center at the University of Washington (UW), working with professors Ram Samudrala and Mehmet Sarikaya. Prior to his appointment at UW, Oren earned his PhD degree in metallurgical and materials engineering at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. Oren's research focuses on computational materials science in bio-nanomaterials, bio-interfaces, and computational design of inorganic-binding peptides.

Oren can be reached at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, PO Box 352120, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195–2120, USA; tel. 206–616–6643; fax 206–543–3100; e-mail

Candan Tamerler, Guest Editor for this issue of MRS Bulletin, is a professor and chair in the Molecular Biology and Genetics Department, and also director of the Molecular Biology-Biotechnology and Genetics Research Center at Istanbul Technical University. Tamerler holds a long-term visiting professor position in materials science and engineering at the University of Washington. Her research interests range from expression and purification of biological molecules to protein-based materials and systems where the peptide functionalities are genetically controlled. In molecular biomimetics, Tamerler's research interests cover the genetic selection of material-specific peptides, their utilization in biofabrication, engineering signing biocompatible surfaces, and developing novel detection and probing systems—all relevant in bionanotechnology, nanomedicine, and nanotechnology. Tamerler has published more than 60 articles and four book chapters, and has presented more than 50 invited and keynote lectures.

Tamerler can be reached at Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey; tel. +90–212–2862251; fax +90–212–2862253; e-mail or