You are here: Home Communications Pressroom News Hunter College-Led Scientists Develop Molecular Code for Melanin-Like Materials

Hunter College-Led Scientists Develop Molecular Code for Melanin-Like Materials

Published on June 8, 2017 in Science Magazine, a study led Einstein Professor of Chemistry Rein V. Ulijn shows an exciting new approach to making substances with the properties of melanin, a compound that scientists have been unable to effectively synthesize in the lab. Melanin’s disordered molecular structure makes it impossible to fully replicate, which has been scientifically frustrating; it has numerous useful qualities that scientists have long tried to harness. Melanin gives the color to our skin, hair, and eyes – but it also absorbs light, providing UV-protection and energy storage.

Now, with this new process to create melanin-like substances, scientists can harness these usefulnesses, while maintaining control over the ways the pigments and properties express themselves. This innovative discovery could enable the development of a new range of cosmetic, skin care, and biomedical products, and the commercialization opportunities may lead to near-term possibilities for the researchers.

“We took advantage of simple versions of proteins—tripeptides, consisting of just three amino acids—to produce a range of molecular architectures with precisely controlled levels of order and disorder,” said Professor Ulijn, also director of the Nanoscience Initiative at the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at the Graduate Center, CUNY. “We were amazed to see that, upon oxidation of these peptide structures, polymeric pigments with a range of colors—from light beige to deep brown- were formed.”

Subsequent, in-depth characterization of the approach demonstrated that further properties, such as UV absorbance and nanoscale morphology of the melanin-like materials, could also be systematically controlled by the amino acid sequence of the tripeptide.

The findings published in Science build on Professor Ulijn's previous research. His lab will now turn its attention to further clarifying the chemical structures that form and expanding the resulting functionalities and properties of the various melanin-like materials they produce.

“We are very proud of Professor Ulijin’s work,” said Jennifer J. Raab, President of Hunter College. “Our students are fortunate to learn from a scientist on the cutting edge of such impactful advances, and we anticipate broad implications of this and future discoveries.”

In addition to Professor Ulijn, the research team also included Hunter Professors Steven G. Greenbaum, Sunita Humagain , and Barney Yoo; Ayala Limpel, Scott A. McPhee, Tai-De Li and Rinat R. Abzalimov of the ASRC; Christopher Bettinger and Hang-Ah Park, Carnegie Mellon University; Tell Tuttle and Gary G. Scott, University of Strathclyde; Doeke R. Hekstra, Harvard University; Pim W.J.M. Frederix, University of Groningen, The Netherlands; and Chunhua Hu, New York University.

Funding for the research was provided in part by the U.S. Air Force. Additional funding was provided by the Israeli Council of Higher Education (Postdoctoral Fellowship).

Document Actions
695 Park Ave
NY, NY 10065