Carnegie Mellon University

Image of a bicep

October 10, 2017

Synthetic Muscle Gets Its Punch from Design Method

By Lisa Kulick

Lisa Kulick
  • College of Engineering
  • 412-268-5444

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering are taking a multidisciplinary approach to building synthetic muscles for applications in regenerative medicine and robotics.

Each time a bicep flexes, millions of molecular motors work together in a complex process. These motors — called myosin — are chemically powered proteins. Combinations of them perform different muscular functions like maintaining a heartbeat or lifting weights. By coupling computational design search methods with biomechanical fundamentals, the researchers created a formal approach for designing myosin systems with specific properties. The findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team developed a new computational model that designs systems in which multiple myosin types operate together. Laboratory experiments then confirmed the computational predictions.

Image of a muscle myosin

Muscle is made up of molecular motors called myosin that form complex combinations to perform specific functions, such as powering muscle contraction. Source: Paul Egan, Carnegie Mellon University

"This computational method will help us to understand muscle better through one of its building blocks, myosin, and help us toward building synthetic muscle in the future. It is similar to using an erector set with nanometer sized proteins to build a moving system," said Philip LeDuc, a professor of mechanical engineering.

These findings, which represent a collaboration between engineering disciplines, could further impact future applications for understanding and treating myosin-related diseases and developing new approaches for motor molecule-based technologies.

"This work demonstrates that the interface between fields can yield novel approaches to research and new findings that would be difficult to achieve with any one perspective," said Jonathan Cagan, professor of mechanical engineering.

"We are merging computational mechanical design — used to design a variety of more traditional systems like automobiles and architecture — with biology," LeDuc said.