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Peptide–Graphene Interactions Enhance the Mechanical Properties of Silk Fibroin

Jingjie Yeo's picture Studies reveal that biomolecules can form intriguing molecular structures with fascinating functionalities upon interaction with graphene. Then, interesting questions arise. How does silk fibroin interact with graphene? Does such interaction lead to an enhancement in its mechanical properties? In this study, using large-scale molecular dynamics simulations, we first examine the interaction of graphene with several typical peptide structures of silk fibroin extracted from different domains of silk fibroin, including pure amorphous (P1), pure crystalline (P2), a segment from N-terminal (P3), and a combined amorphous and crystalline segment (P4), aiming to reveal their structural modifications. Our study shows that graphene can have intriguing influences on the structures formed by the peptides with sequences representing different domains of silk fibroin. In general, for protein domains with stable structure and strong intramolecular interaction (e.g., β-sheets), graphene tends to compete with the intramolecular interactions and thus weaken the interchain interaction and reduce the contents of β-sheets. For the silk domains with random or less ordered secondary structures and weak intramolecular interactions, graphene tends to enhance the stability of peptide structures; in particular, it increases the contents of helical structures. Thereafter, tensile simulations were further performed on the representative peptides to investigate how such structure modifications affect their mechanical properties. It was found that the strength and resilience of the peptides are enhanced through their interaction with graphene. The present work reveals interesting insights into the interactions between silk peptides and graphene, and contributes in the efforts to enhance the mechanical properties of silk fibroin.

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