Thursday, July 19, 2007

If only she weren't considered a materials engineer . . .

I was conscripted by the head of the honours program in my department to help organize a guest lecture in October. My top choice was Robert Shapiro, the author of the origins-of-life paper I mentioned a few weeks ago. As it turns out, he's already coming to Montreal from New York the week before the date of my lecture, which is half-unfortunate. It means I still get to see him lecture, which should be great, but it means I'm not the one to bring him here. My next choice was going to be Angela Belcher from MIT, whom Scientific American named 2006's Researcher of the Year.

Her research is incredible. She has built a battery out of phages. She has phages that encode semiconductors, and ones that can form liquid crystals. She figures some day, we'll be able to construct complex circuits by encoding them with DNA sequences. Just grow your own computer.

This is the 2006 Science paper in which they constructed a lithium ion battery out of phages coated in cobalt oxide and gold. They expressed metal-binding glutamate-rich peptides fused to the major coat protein of M13, a helical phage, then simply soaked it in a metal solution. M13 can form long crystals, which when coated in metal, act as nanowires. Using the right substrate, it also spontaneously forms two-dimensional structured arrays. Craziness, I say. Craziness.

Unfortunately, I was vetoed, and we won't be trying to bring her in to Montreal(after all, it really isn't that close to Microbiology and Immunology).


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