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Open Access Publications from the University of California

NanoEngineering UCSD - Open Access Policy Deposits

This series is automatically populated with publications deposited by UC San Diego Department of NanoEngineering researchers in accordance with the University of California’s open access policies. For more information see Open Access Policy Deposits and the UC Publication Management System.

Cover page of A genetically engineered neuronal membrane-based nanotoxoid elicits protective immunity against neurotoxins.

A genetically engineered neuronal membrane-based nanotoxoid elicits protective immunity against neurotoxins.

(2024)

Given their dangerous effects on the nervous system, neurotoxins represent a significant threat to public health. Various therapeutic approaches, including chelating agents, receptor decoys, and toxin-neutralizing antibodies, have been explored. While prophylactic vaccines are desirable, it is oftentimes difficult to effectively balance their safety and efficacy given the highly dangerous nature of neurotoxins. To address this, we report here on a nanovaccine against neurotoxins that leverages the detoxifying properties of cell membrane-coated nanoparticles. A genetically modified cell line with constitutive overexpression of the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor is developed as a membrane source to generate biomimetic nanoparticles that can effectively and irreversibly bind to α-bungarotoxin, a model neurotoxin. This abrogates the biological activity of the toxin, enabling the resulting nanotoxoid to be safely delivered into the body and processed by the immune system. When co-administered with an immunological adjuvant, a strong humoral response against α-bungarotoxin is generated that protects vaccinated mice against a lethal dose of the toxin. Overall, this work highlights the potential of using genetic modification strategies to develop nanotoxoid formulations against various biological threats.

Cover page of Two-dimensional perovskite templates for durable, efficient formamidinium perovskite solar cells

Two-dimensional perovskite templates for durable, efficient formamidinium perovskite solar cells

(2024)

We present a design strategy for fabricating ultrastable phase-pure films of formamidinium lead iodide (FAPbI3) by lattice templating using specific two-dimensional (2D) perovskites with FA as the cage cation. When a pure FAPbI3 precursor solution is brought in contact with the 2D perovskite, the black phase forms preferentially at 100°C, much lower than the standard FAPbI3 annealing temperature of 150°C. X-ray diffraction and optical spectroscopy suggest that the resulting FAPbI3 film compresses slightly to acquire the (011) interplanar distances of the 2D perovskite seed. The 2D-templated bulk FAPbI3 films exhibited an efficiency of 24.1% in a p-i-n architecture with 0.5-square centimeter active area and an exceptional durability, retaining 97% of their initial efficiency after 1000 hours under 85°C and maximum power point tracking.

Cover page of Molecular-Scale Visualization of Steric Effects of Ligand Binding to Reconstructed Au(111) Surfaces

Molecular-Scale Visualization of Steric Effects of Ligand Binding to Reconstructed Au(111) Surfaces

(2024)

Direct imaging of single molecules at nanostructured interfaces is a grand challenge with potential to enable new, precise material architectures and technologies. Of particular interest are the structural morphology and spectroscopic signatures of the adsorbed molecule, where modern probes are only now being developed with the necessary spatial and energetic resolution to provide detailed information at the molecule-surface interface. Here, we directly characterize the adsorption of individual m-terphenyl isocyanide ligands on a reconstructed Au(111) surface through scanning tunneling microscopy and inelastic electron tunneling spectroscopy. The site-dependent steric pressure of the various surface features alters the vibrational fingerprints of the m-terphenyl isocyanides, which are characterized with single-molecule precision through joint experimental and theoretical approaches. This study provides molecular-level insights into the steric-pressure-enabled surface binding selectivity as well as its effect on the chemical properties of individual surface-binding ligands.

Cover page of Systemic Administration of Cowpea Mosaic Virus Demonstrates Broad Protection Against Metastatic Cancers.

Systemic Administration of Cowpea Mosaic Virus Demonstrates Broad Protection Against Metastatic Cancers.

(2024)

The key challenge in cancer treatment is prevention of metastatic disease which is therapeutically resistant and carries poor prognoses necessitating efficacious prophylactic approaches that prevent metastasis and recurrence. It is previously demonstrated that cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) induces durable antitumor responses when used in situ, i.e., intratumoral injection. As a new direction, it is showed that CPMV demonstrates widespread effectiveness as an immunoprophylactic agent - potent efficacy is demonstrated in four metastatic models of colon, ovarian, melanoma, and breast cancer. Systemic administration of CPMV stimulates the innate immune system, enabling attack of cancer cells; processing of the cancer cells and associated antigens leads to systemic, durable, and adaptive antitumor immunity. Overall, CPMV demonstrated broad efficacy as an immunoprophylactic agent in the rejection of metastatic cancer.

Cover page of Spotlight: Visualization of Moiré Quantum Phenomena in Transition Metal Dichalcogenide with Scanning Tunneling Microscopy

Spotlight: Visualization of Moiré Quantum Phenomena in Transition Metal Dichalcogenide with Scanning Tunneling Microscopy

(2024)

Transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD) moiré superlattices have emerged as a significant area of study in condensed matter physics. Thanks to their superior optical properties, tunable electronic band structure, strong Coulomb interactions, and quenched electron kinetic energy, they offer exciting avenues to explore correlated quantum phenomena, topological properties, and light-matter interactions. In recent years, scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) has made significant impacts on the study of these fields by enabling intrinsic surface visualization and spectroscopic measurements with unprecedented atomic scale detail. Here, we spotlight the key findings and innovative developments in imaging and characterization of TMD heterostructures via STM, from its initial implementation on the in situ grown sample to the latest photocurrent tunneling microscopy. The evolution in sample design, progressing from a conductive to an insulating substrate, has not only expanded our control over TMD moiré superlattices but also promoted an understanding of their structures and strongly correlated properties, such as the structural reconstruction and formation of generalized two-dimensional Wigner crystal states. In addition to highlighting recent advancements, we outline upcoming challenges, suggest the direction of future research, and advocate for the versatile use of STM to further comprehend and manipulate the quantum dynamics in TMD moiré superlattices.

Cover page of Soil salinization in agriculture: Mitigation and adaptation strategies combining nature-based solutions and bioengineering.

Soil salinization in agriculture: Mitigation and adaptation strategies combining nature-based solutions and bioengineering.

(2024)

Soil salinization is among the most critical threats to agriculture and food security. Excess of salts adversely affects soil structure and fertility, plant growth, crop yield, and microorganisms. It is caused by natural processes, such as dry climates and low precipitations, high evaporation rate, poor waterlogging, and human factors, such as inappropriate irrigation practices, poor drainage systems, and excessive use of fertilizers. The growing extremization of climate with prolonged drought conditions is worsening the phenomenon. Nature-based solutions (NBS), combined with precision or conservation agriculture, represent a sustainable response, and offer benefits through revitalizing ecosystem services. This perspective explores NBS that can be adopted, along with their challenges and implementation limitations. We also argue that NBS could not be enough to combat hunger in the worlds most vulnerable regions and fully achieve the Sustainable Development Goal - Zero Hunger (SDG2). We therefore discuss their possible combination with salt-tolerant crops based on bioengineering.

Cover page of Synergistic combination therapy using cowpea mosaic virus intratumoral immunotherapy and Lag-3 checkpoint blockade.

Synergistic combination therapy using cowpea mosaic virus intratumoral immunotherapy and Lag-3 checkpoint blockade.

(2024)

Immune checkpoint therapy (ICT) for cancer can yield dramatic clinical responses; however, these may only be observed in a minority of patients. These responses can be further limited by subsequent disease recurrence and resistance. Combination immunotherapy strategies are being developed to overcome these limitations. We have previously reported enhanced efficacy of combined intratumoral cowpea mosaic virus immunotherapy (CPMV IIT) and ICT approaches. Lymphocyte-activation gene-3 (LAG-3) is a next-generation inhibitory immune checkpoint with broad expression across multiple immune cell subsets. Its expression increases on activated T cells and contributes to T cell exhaustion. We observed heightened efficacy of a combined CPMV IIT and anti-LAG-3 treatment in a mouse model of melanoma. Further, LAG-3 expression was found to be increased within the TME following intratumoral CPMV administration. The integration of CPMV IIT with LAG-3 inhibition holds significant potential to improve treatment outcomes by concurrently inducing a comprehensive anti-tumor immune response, enhancing local immune activation, and mitigating T cell exhaustion.

Cover page of Next-Generation Vitrimers Design through Theoretical Understanding and Computational Simulations.

Next-Generation Vitrimers Design through Theoretical Understanding and Computational Simulations.

(2024)

Vitrimers are an innovative class of polymers that boast a remarkable fusion of mechanical and dynamic features, complemented by the added benefit of end-of-life recyclability. This extraordinary blend of properties makes them highly attractive for a variety of applications, such as the automotive sector, soft robotics, and the aerospace industry. At their core, vitrimer materials consist of crosslinked covalent networks that have the ability to dynamically reorganize in response to external factors, including temperature changes, pressure variations, or shifts in pH levels. In this review, the aim is to delve into the latest advancements in the theoretical understanding and computational design of vitrimers. The review begins by offering an overview of the fundamental principles that underlie the behavior of these materials, encompassing their structures, dynamic behavior, and reaction mechanisms. Subsequently, recent progress in the computational design of vitrimers is explored, with a focus on the employment of molecular dynamics (MD)/Monte Carlo (MC) simulations and density functional theory (DFT) calculations. Last, the existing challenges and prospective directions for this field are critically analyzed, emphasizing the necessity for additional theoretical and computational advancements, coupled with experimental validation.

Cover page of Inter-coat protein loading of active ingredients into Tobacco mild green mosaic virus through partial dissociation and reassembly of the virion

Inter-coat protein loading of active ingredients into Tobacco mild green mosaic virus through partial dissociation and reassembly of the virion

(2024)

Chemical pesticide delivery is a fundamental aspect of agriculture. However, the extensive use of pesticides severely endangers the ecosystem because they accumulate on crops, in soil, as well as in drinking and groundwater. New frontiers in nano-engineering have opened the door for precision agriculture. We introduced Tobacco mild green mosaic virus (TMGMV) as a viable delivery platform with a high aspect ratio and favorable soil mobility. In this work, we assess the use of TMGMV as a chemical nanocarrier for agriculturally relevant cargo. While plant viruses are usually portrayed as rigid/solid structures, these are "dynamic materials," and they "breathe" in solution in response to careful adjustment of pH or bathing media [e.g., addition of solvent such as dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO)]. Through this process, coat proteins (CPs) partially dissociate leading to swelling of the nucleoprotein complexes-allowing for the infusion of active ingredients (AI), such as pesticides [e.g., fluopyram (FLP), clothianidin (CTD), rifampicin (RIF), and ivermectin (IVM)] into the macromolecular structure. We developed a "breathing" method that facilitates inter-coat protein cargo loading, resulting in up to  ~ 1000 AIs per virion. This is of significance since in the agricultural setting, there is a need to develop nanoparticle delivery strategies where the AI is not chemically altered, consequently avoiding the need for regulatory and registration processes of new compounds. This work highlights the potential of TMGMV as a pesticide nanocarrier in precision farming applications; the developed methods likely would be applicable to other protein-based nanoparticle systems.

Cover page of Biocomposite thermoplastic polyurethanes containing evolved bacterial spores as living fillers to facilitate polymer disintegration

Biocomposite thermoplastic polyurethanes containing evolved bacterial spores as living fillers to facilitate polymer disintegration

(2024)

The field of hybrid engineered living materials seeks to pair living organisms with synthetic materials to generate biocomposite materials with augmented function since living systems can provide highly-programmable and complex behavior. Engineered living materials have typically been fabricated using techniques in benign aqueous environments, limiting their application. In this work, biocomposite fabrication is demonstrated in which spores from polymer-degrading bacteria are incorporated into a thermoplastic polyurethane using high-temperature melt extrusion. Bacteria are engineered using adaptive laboratory evolution to improve their heat tolerance to ensure nearly complete cell survivability during manufacturing at 135 °C. Furthermore, the overall tensile properties of spore-filled thermoplastic polyurethanes are substantially improved, resulting in a significant improvement in toughness. The biocomposites facilitate disintegration in compost in the absence of a microbe-rich environment. Finally, embedded spores demonstrate a rationally programmed function, expressing green fluorescent protein. This research provides a scalable method to fabricate advanced biocomposite materials in industrially-compatible processes.