PerspectiveMaterials Science

How Shape Affects Microtubule and Nanoparticle Assembly

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Science  28 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6174, pp. 981-982
DOI: 10.1126/science.1250827

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Part of the tantalizing promise of nanoparticles is that they can serve as building blocks of complex systems that could outperform other materials. For example, different structures could form depending on the shape of the nanoparticles. A stimulus, such as a change in temperature or the addition of a small molecule, that changes nanoparticle shape could create a new structure with a different function. Nature provides a large example set of nanoparticles in the form of proteins, which can be studied to gain insight into shape-dependent assembly. In a recent paper, Ojeda-Lopez et al. (1) describe a new shape-changing mechanism that dramatically alters how a protein system assembles. The α–β tubulin dimer naturally polymerizes to form microtubules. The authors discovered that adding a highly charged small molecule, spermine, causes a shape transformation. The tubules assemble within an inverted structure compared to that of the original microtubules.