The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded Aalto University Assistant Professor Mauri Kostiainen a prestigious ERC Consolidator grant for the Multicomponent Protein Cage Co-Crystals (ProCrystal) research project. The funding amounts to almost EUR 2 million and lasts for five years.
Together with his research group, Kostiainen seeks to utilize virus capsids, the protein shells of a virus, and other protein cages as building blocks for new biohybrid materials. Such materials aim to combine the highly specific functions of biomolecules with the versatility of synthetic materials.
Protein cages offer a tuneable, yet geometrically well-defined shell that can encapsulate different functional colloids and guide the crystallization of multiple different components. These crystals might function for example in catalysis and purification applications.
Possibility to direct nanoscale structural order in complex matter, is a prerequisite for the development of functional materials. Currently, most nanostructured materials consist of fully synthetic or biological materials, since it is challenging to integrate them in a designed manner.
“In our research, we propose an approach based on the electrostatic co-assembly of biological protein cages and synthetic materials to bridge the gap between these material types,” says Professor Mauri Kostiainen. “Protein-based nanocages, such as ferritins and virus capsids, offer a tuneable, yet geometrically well-defined cage that can encapsulate different materials and crystallize easily. Our target is to encode functions to these crystals and realize collectively behaving nanoparticle arrays.”
The ERC provides Consolidator Grant funding to researchers in the middle of their careers whose scientific career to date foresees particular success.