De novo rational design of a freestanding, supercharged polypeptide, proton-conducting membrane

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Science Advances  17 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 29, eabc0810
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc0810


Proton translocation enables important processes in nature and man-made technologies. However, controlling proton conduction and fabrication of devices exploiting biomaterials remains a challenge. Even more difficult is the design of protein-based bulk materials without any functional starting scaffold for further optimization. Here, we show the rational design of proton-conducting, protein materials exceeding reported proteinaceous systems. The carboxylic acid–rich structures were evolved step by step by exploring various sequences from intrinsically disordered coils over supercharged nanobarrels to hierarchically spider β sheet containing protein-supercharged polypeptide chimeras. The latter material is characterized by interconnected β sheet nanodomains decorated on their surface by carboxylic acid groups, forming self-supportive membranes and allowing for proton conduction in the hydrated state. The membranes showed an extraordinary proton conductivity of 18.5 ± 5 mS/cm at RH = 90%, one magnitude higher than other protein devices. This design paradigm offers great potential for bioprotonic device fabrication interfacing artificial and biological systems.

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