Amino-acid-encoded biocatalytic self-assembly enables the formation of transient conducting nanostructures



Aqueous compatible supramolecular materials hold promise for applications in environmental remediation, energy harvesting and biomedicine. One remaining challenge is to actively select a target structure from a multitude of possible options, in response to chemical signals, while maintaining constant, physiological conditions. Here, we demonstrate the use of amino acids to actively decorate a self-assembling core molecule in situ, thereby controlling its amphiphilicity and consequent mode of assembly. The core molecule is the organic semiconductor naphthalene diimide, functionalized with D- and L- tyrosine methyl esters as competing reactive sites. In the presence of α-chymotrypsin and a selected encoding amino acid, kinetic competition between ester hydrolysis and amidation results in covalent or non-covalent amino acid incorporation, and variable supramolecular self-assembly pathways. Taking advantage of the semiconducting nature of the naphthalene diimide core, electronic wires could be formed and subsequently degraded, giving rise to temporally regulated electro-conductivity.

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The authors acknowledge staff at the Biomolecular Spectroscopy Facility for Circular Dichroism, Imaging Suite Facility and Nanofabrication Facility, all of which are part of the Advanced Science Research Center at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. The research leading to these results received funding from the US Air Force (AFOSR, grants FA9550-15-1-0192 and FA9550-014-1-0350), US Army Research Laboratory and US Army Research Office under contract/grant number W911NF-16-1-0113.

Author information


  1. Advanced Science Research Center, Graduate Center, City University of New York, New York, NY, USA

    • Mohit Kumar
    • , Vishal Narang
    • , Nadeesha K. Wijerathne
    •  & Rein V. Ulijn
  2. Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, USA

    • Nicole L. Ing
    •  & Allon I. Hochbaum
  3. Department of Chemistry, Hunter College, City University of New York, New York, NY, USA

    • Nadeesha K. Wijerathne
    •  & Rein V. Ulijn
  4. Biochemistry and Chemistry Ph.D. Programs, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York, NY, USA

    • Nadeesha K. Wijerathne
    •  & Rein V. Ulijn
  5. Department of Chemistry, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, USA

    • Allon I. Hochbaum


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M.K. and R.V.U. conceived the idea, designed and discussed the concepts and experiments, and analysed the data. M.K. performed the experimental work. N.I. and A.H. designed and performed the electronic transport measurements and analysed the data. N.W. performed and analysed the infrared spectroscopy (IR) measurement. V.N. performed the atomic force microscopy experiment. M.K., R.V.U., N.I. and A.H. co-wrote the paper. All authors discussed and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rein V. Ulijn.

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