A research project funded by the US Army has made a breakthrough in the quest for a new class of high-performance materials and therapeutics for soldiers.

Synthetic biologists at Northwestern University have created new substrates that could guide the manufacturing of new classes of synthetic polymers.

Researchers developed a set of design rules that guide how ‘ribosomes can incorporate new kinds of monomers’.

The findings could lead to the creation of advanced materials that could deliver capabilities for use by the army.

US Army Research Office polymer chemistry programme manager Dr Dawanne Poree said: “These findings are an exciting step forward to achieving sequence-defined synthetic polymers, which has been a grand challenge in the field of polymer chemistry.

“The ability to harness and adapt cellular machinery to produce non-biological polymers would, in essence, bring synthetic materials into the realm of biological functions. This could render advanced, high-performance materials such as nanoelectronics, self-healing materials, and other materials of interest for the army.”

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The new synthetic polymers could be used in applications such as developing electronics, advanced solar cells and nanofabrication, and personal protective gear for the soldiers, Poree added.

In a statement, the US Army Research Laboratory said: “This project looked at how to re-engineer biological machinery to allow it to work with non-biological building blocks that would offer a route to creating synthetic polymers with the precision of biology.”

The team sought to expand the range of monomers used by the ribosome. The monomers need to be attached to Transfer ribonucleic acid (tRNAs).

Researchers chose a new process called flexizyme for linking the monomers to the tRNAs. They created 37 monomers from a diverse repertoire of scaffolds.

The project was carried out under the US Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives programme.