Biological protein can self-assemble into tiny nanolasers and other photonic devices

Found in the cells of nearly every living thing, the protein clathrin forms into tripod-shaped subunits called triskelia that sort and transport chemicals into cells by folding around them.

Jul 1st, 2010

Found in the cells of nearly every living thing, the protein clathrin forms into tripod-shaped subunits called triskelia that sort and transport chemicals into cells by folding around them. While multiple triskelia can self-assemble into cage structures with 20 to 100 nm diameters for applications in drug delivery and disease targeting, scientists at ExQor Technologies (Boston, MA) see a host of other nanoscale electronic and photonic applications for clathrin that could rival those for silicon or other inorganic devices, including a bio-nanolaser as small as 25 nm.

A spherical scaffold of clathrin subunits forms ExQor's patented clathrin bio-nanolaser. How can a chromophore so small (25 to 50 nm in size) serve as a cavity for visible light? ExQor says it forces chromophore-microcavity interaction, and this combination possesses a high-enough Q for lasing. In this way, the bio-nanolaser produces self-generated power in a sub-100-nm diameter structure for potential applications in illuminating and identifying (or possibly destroying) particular biological tissues by functionalizing the structure with antibodies or other agents that can target particular pathogens or even certain cells. In addition, ExQor says quantum-mechanical effects could be used that might enable unique, spin-based, self-assembling nanoelectronic/nanophotonic devices and even bio-based quantum computers composed of clathrin protein. Contact Franco Vitaliano at francov@exqor.com.

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