In nature, the viability of biological systems is sustained via specific interactions among the tens of thousands of proteins, the major building blocks of organisms from the simplest single-celled to the most complex multicellular species. Biomolecule-material interaction is accomplished with molecular specificity and efficiency leading to the formation of controlled structures and functions at all scales of dimensional hierarchy. Through evolution, Mother Nature developed molecular recognition by successive cycles of mutation and selection. Molecular specificity of probe-target interactions, e.g., ligand-receptor, antigen–antibody, is always based on specific peptide molecular recognition. Using biology as a guide, we can now understand, engineer, and control peptide-material interactions and exploit them as a new design tool for novel materials and systems. We adapted the protocols of combinatorially designed peptide libraries, via both cell surface or phage display methods; using these we select short peptides with specificity to a variety of practical materials. These genetically engineered peptides for inorganics (GEPI) are then studied experimentally to establish their binding kinetics and surface stability. The bound peptide structure and conformations are interrogated both experimentally and via modeling, and self-assembly characteristics are tested via atomic force microscopy. We further engineer the peptide binding and assembly characteristics using a computational biomimetics approach where bioinformatics based peptide-sequence similarity analysis is developed to design higher generation function-specific peptides. The molecular biomimetic approach opens up new avenues for the design and utilization of multifunctional molecular systems in a wide-range of applications from tissue engineering, disease diagnostics, and therapeutics to various areas of nanotechnology where integration is required among inorganic, organic and biological materials. Here, we describe lessons from biology with examples of protein-mediated functional biological materials, explain how novel peptides can be designed with specific affinity to inorganic solids using evolutionary engineering approaches, give examples of their potential utilizations in technology and medicine, and, finally, provide a summary of challenges and future prospects. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Biopolymers (Pept Sci) 94:78–94, 2010.
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