‘Mechanical Engineering’ of Elastomeric Proteins: Toward Designing New Protein Building Blocks for Biomaterials


  • Hongbin Li

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Chemistry The University of British Columbia 2036 Main Mall Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1 (Canada)
    • Department of Chemistry The University of British Columbia 2036 Main Mall Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1 (Canada).
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  • The author is grateful for the financial support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canada Research Chairs Program, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research and the University of British Columbia. Mr. Yi Cao and Qing Peng are also thanked for their critical reading of the manuscript and their help in preparing Figure 1.


Elastomeric proteins are subject to stretching force under biological settings and play important roles in regulating the mechanical properties of a wide range of biological machinery. Elastomeric proteins also underlie the superb mechanical properties of many protein-based biomaterials. The developments of single molecule force spectroscopy have enabled the direct characterization of the mechanical properties of elastomeric proteins at the single molecule level and led to the new burgeoning field of research: single protein mechanics and engineering. Combined single molecule atomic force microscopy and protein engineering efforts are well under way to understand molecular determinants for the mechanical stability of elastomeric proteins and to develop methodologies to tune the mechanical properties of proteins in a rational and systematic fashion, which will lead to the ‘mechanical engineering’ of elastomeric proteins. Here the current status of these experimental efforts is discussed and the successes and challenges in constructing novel proteins with tailored nanomechanical proteins highlighted. The prospect of employing such engineered artificial elastomeric proteins as building blocks for the construction of biomaterials for applications ranging from material sciences to biomedical engineering are also discussed.

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