Transient assembly of active materials fueled by a chemical reaction

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Science  04 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6252, pp. 1075-1079
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac6103

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Nonequilibrium transient self-assembly

In biology, the constant supply of energy can drive a system to be far from its equilibrium conditions and allow for useful work to be done. In contrast, in most synthetic systems, there is a drive toward lower energy states. Boekhoven et al. made a molecule that can switch between a nonassociating state and an associating state through the addition of a chemical fuel (see the Perspective by Van der Zwagg and Meijer). The lifetime, stiffness, and regenerative behavior of the self-assembled state could be controlled and tuned by the kinetics of fuel conversion.

Science, this issue p. 1075; see also p. 1056


Fuel-driven self-assembly of actin filaments and microtubules is a key component of cellular organization. Continuous energy supply maintains these transient biomolecular assemblies far from thermodynamic equilibrium, unlike typical synthetic systems that spontaneously assemble at thermodynamic equilibrium. Here, we report the transient self-assembly of synthetic molecules into active materials, driven by the consumption of a chemical fuel. In these materials, reaction rates and fuel levels, instead of equilibrium composition, determine properties such as lifetime, stiffness, and self-regeneration capability. Fibers exhibit strongly nonlinear behavior including stochastic collapse and simultaneous growth and shrinkage, reminiscent of microtubule dynamics.

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