Controlled Randomness: The Secret Toward Protein-like Heteropolymers by Prof. Ting Xu, UC Berkeley



Controlled Randomness: The Secret Toward Protein-like Heteropolymers

Prof. Ting Xu,

UC Berkeley

Dept. of Material Sciences & Engineering, Dept. of Chemistry,

UCB-UCSF Joint Bioengineering Program,


Materials Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Thursday, July 23,   7:30 PM Webinar


Historically, polymer science began with natural polymers. The field diverged into two primary areas, synthetic polymers and biopolymers, based on their chemistry, polydispersity, and applications. Tremendous efforts have been devoted toward understanding the sequence-structure-function relationship in biopolymers and their roles in life science. In large scale commercial synthetic materials, homopolymers are the most extensively produced and used by volume, albeit of chemical simplicity, polydispersity, and often undefined structures. Block copolymers (BCP), which represent a single step forward in sequence control, have drastically changed the landscape of polymeric materials in the past few decades. With recent developments in controlled polymerization, the possibilities toward functional polymeric materials seem to be unlimited.

It is well accepted that a protein’s sequence encoded by DNA is key foundation toward its structure and biological functions. Synthetic advances have been made to achieve sequence-specific polymers via controlled polymerization or engineering biomachineries. There are also excellent developments in synthesizing multi-block copolymers with very short blocks. Experimentally, there are studies to probe how the monomer sequence or monomer mutation affect the overall macroscopic behavior of polymer as an ensemble. However, it remains an unanswered question as to what extent of sequence specificity one needs toward truly protein-like synthetic polymers.

I will present our efforts to decipher critical design rules and to realize protein-like behavior by controlling randomness in heteropolymers toward truly protein-like polymers. Specifically, I will discuss three areas including insights gained in protein-polymer interactions using model peptide-polymer conjugates, protein stabilization in non-native environments, and how to harvest statistically controlled randomness to design polymers as synthetic membrane proteins. These fundamental studies led to a rich library of functional materials for bioremediation, water treatment, disposable electronic, rapid ion transport and robust catalysis, with many waiting to be explored.

Useful references:

  1. Segmental Heterogeneity in Random Heteropolymers Can Enable Effective and Selective Proton Transport, Nature, 2020, 577, 216.
  2. Random Heteropolymer Enables Protein Function in Foreign Environments, Science, 2018, 359, 1239.
  3. Reusable Enzymatic Fiber Mats for Neurotoxin Remediation in Water, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2018, 10, 51, 44216.
  4. Peptide-Polymer Conjugates: From Fundamental Science to Application, Annual Review of Physical Chemistry, 2013, 64, 631.
  5. Directed Co-Assembly of Heme Proteins With Amphiphilic Block Copolymers Toward Functional Biomolecular Materials, Soft Matter, 2011, 1, 172.
  6. Amphiphilic Peptide-polymer Conjugates with Enhanced Processiblity and Protein Stability, Macromolecular Rapid Communication, 2011, 32, 344

Speaker Background:

Prof. Ting Xu received her Ph.D from U. Mass., Amherst Dept. of Polymer Science and Engineering, and did postdoctoral work at the Univ. of Pennsylvania and NIST. She joined UC Berkeley as an assistant professor in both the Dept. of Chemistry and the Dept. of Materials Science & Engineering in 2007, and became a full professor in 2016.

Prof. Xu's research interests rest at the interface among chemistry, soft matter, biology and material engineering. Her research efforts focus on understanding assembly processes in multi-component systems and applying that fundamental knowledge to control the assembly kinetics and pathways to generate hierarchically structured nanomaterials with built-in functionalities. Researchers in Prof. Xu's group take advantage of the recent developments in polymer science, protein science, synthetic biology, and nanoparticle synthesis and manipulation, and apply them to establish chemistry-structure-property relationship and generate nanostructured functional materials for life science, environment and energy applications.

Prof. Xu has over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles, 5 book chapters and 9 patents, and is the recipient of multiple awards. She is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Chemical Society, and serves on the Board of Directors of Materials Research Society

EVENT DATE: Thursday, July 23

Registration deadline: Monday, July 20, 5:00 PM.

Registration may close earlier than the nominal deadline if capacity is reached.

This event will be FREE OF CHARGE, but we still require you to fill out the registration form. In particular, we need to have your name and email address for you to be able to participate.

If you can spare a small amount, GGPF requests an optional donation of $5 (or more!) but this is not required to register.

Webinar Timing: Start Time 7:30 PM. 

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Nadine Ding

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