Fiber medicine

NSF grant awarded to Zhang for the production of muscle fibers with a synthetic biology approach

Fuzhong Zhang, a professor of energy, environmental, and chemical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering, has developed a synthetic biology platform to produce muscle fibers that are strong, resilient, and can absorb energy in ways very similar to the real thing. . His research team then explored genetic modifications that could improve the performance of the materials.

Why stop there?

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Washington University in St. Louis’ Zhang Laboratory a grant of $458,490 to pursue this line of research. His team can now take a closer look at titin, a muscle protein, to understand which genetic changes in titin are associated with particular physical traits.

We would like to use our synthetic biology platform as a tool to understand how synthetic muscle fibers work and make better materials.”


Fuzhong Zhang, professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering

His team will also use their tools to examine muscle fibers from long-extinct animals.

Zhang’s lab uses a synthetic biology approach to produce synthetic muscle fibers from genetically engineered bacteria. The group published their tool and the properties of first-generation synthetic muscle fibers last year in the journal Nature Communications. They now plan to use their system to refine the titin protein sequence and then to understand how these sequence changes affect muscle fiber properties.

“We will fabricate fibers with defined protein sequences and examine their strength and toughness. We will then be able to map material properties onto their sequences,” he said. “We can use this data to create muscle fibers with special properties by searching for new titin proteins,” he said, including those from long-extinct animal species.