This illustration reveals how the arrangement of molecular building blocks results in materials with unique properties, both in nature and in the laboratory (Image: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation)
It’s one of those enduring mysteries of nature – how can one biological substance end up becoming several different types of material? One example is collagen, a fibrous protein that can be made into body parts such as corneal tissue, cartilage, bone, and skin. In an effort to better understand such processes, scientists at the University of California at Berkeley decided to see if they could manipulate another biological building block into forming itself into different materials. They succeeded, using viruses known as M13 phages.