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Research Article

Alpha-Helical Protein Networks Are Self-Protective and Flaw-Tolerant

  • Theodor Ackbarow,

    Affiliation: Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America

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  • Dipanjan Sen,

    Affiliations: Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America

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  • Christian Thaulow,

    Affiliation: Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America

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  • Markus J. Buehler mail

    mbuehler@mit.edu

    Affiliations: Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America, Center for Computational Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America

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  • Published: June 23, 2009
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006015

Reader Comments (2)

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Insightful modelling may be prophetic

Posted by Yahya on 10 Jul 2009 at 03:52 GMT

A multistage hierarchical model is proposed to effectively characterise the behaviour of Intermediate Filaments (IF), a highly elastic component of cell walls. The model has significant explanatory power, and is notionally extended to similar Lamin filaments in (cell) nucleus walls.

Of especial interest is that the model features different structures and behaviours at each of its five hierarchical levels, each such behaviour being necessary to explain the overall performance of the IF material.

Because of the exceptional elasticity and fault-tolerance of IF, this model may well provide a better understanding of the full range of material behaviours at different scales, and thus improve the art and science of designing new materials. Such materials hold promise of major advances in engineering safer responses to stresses, such as earthquakes and collisions, that in natural materials invariably entail catastrophic failures.

The chief methodical charm of this model is that the flexibility of thought that created it may be as great as that of the materials it models. Any one-size-fits-all thinking would not be as likely to usefully model the complex real materials found in nature, nor to point in such potentially fruitful directions for materials engineering. Perhaps we are only now culturally ready for such approaches, which combine the rigour of science with a system-wide view of structure and process that embraces the diversity of real-world organisms and interactions. Whatever their inspirations, I commend the authors for firmly setting the detailed materials they study in a wider perspective. Such work enhances our collective ability to deal with real-life complexity.

No competing interests declared.