Photosynthetic organisms rely on highly-ordered chromophore arrays to capture and transfer solar energy to reaction centers for its conversion into chemical potential energy. To gain a better understanding of the design principles that enable the energy transfer processes in natural pigment-protein light harvesting systems, we have developed and explored synthetic systems based on the tobacco mosaic virus capsid protein (TMV). Through genetic engineering and site-specific conjugation, both pigment-protein and pigment-pigment interactions can be investigated systematically using these biomimetic systems. These studies are anticipated to provide insight towards the development of efficient artificial systems for solar energy collection and transduction in the future.
Our lab is also developing materials containing both proteins and peptidomimetics for the selective detection and removal of toxic contaminants from water. As one example, we have demonstrated the capability of peptoid (N-substituted glycine oligomer) ligands for environmental remediation by identifying sequences capable of the selective removal of chromium(VI) from natural water sources. In this work we developed and synthesized a peptoid library capable of metal chelation, designed a screening protocol, and characterized the complexes formed by the identified sequences. Recent research in our group has explored the use of protein binders for the efficient electrochemical detection of trace quantities of organic pollutants, such as endocrine disrupting compounds.