Skip to main content

Characterization of Novel Synthetic Biological Materials

EMSL Project ID


Synthetic biology and genome engineering allows us to harness the machinery of nature to synthesize materials with properties comparable to, or even beyond, the performance of natural materials. We have converted bacteria into programmable chemical factories to produce synthetic biological materials (SBMs). Production of SBMs uses DNA-templates and offers precise control over monomer sequence and polymer length. Recent research shows the ability to synthesize an amyloid-spidroin-mussel foot (ASM) hybrid protein which includes (1) human β-amyloid protein segment for its tendency to self-assemble into stable β-crystals, (2) spider silk protein segment (MaSp1) to enable the formation of amorphous domains, and (3) mussel foot protein 5 segment (Mfp5) to facilitate adhesion. Our long-term goal is to eventually rationally de-sign ASM proteins that produce hydrogels and cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) nanocomposite hydrogels with an enhanced properties for applications that require underwater adhesives. We will use  Environmental Molecular Science Laboratory’s (EMSL) advanced capabilities to characterize ASM and CNC-ASM hydrogel composition and ultrastructure as a function of ASM protein sequence with the goal of elucidating the relationship among ASM protein sequence, hy-drogel composition and ultrastructure, and hydrogel shear strength and modulus. To understand the sequence-structure-property relationships, we will produce hydrogels with different ASM sequences and examine the effect that sequence has on hydrogel composition, ultrastructure, and performance.

Project Details

Project type
Exploratory Research
Start Date
End Date


Principal Investigator

Marcus Foston
Washington University in St. Louis


Fuzhong Zhang
Washington University in St. Louis

Team Members

Juya Jeon
Washington University in St. Louis

Zhenqin Wang
Washington University in St. Louis