The interactions of biosurfactants with lipid membranes

Funding Details
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • Grant type: Discovery Grants Program - Individual
  • Years: 2010/11 to 2014/15
  • Total Funding: $200,000
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Project Summary

Soaps and detergents are used in laundries and kitchens, oil fields, and laboratories for molecular biology (to name but a few examples) to disperse greasy, otherwise insoluble materials in water. They are also used to destroy biological cells in sterilizing and spermicidal products. It turns out that nature produces a wide variety of similar compounds, termed biosurfactants, for similar and other, more specific purposes. Examples are saponins (sapo is latin for soap) in plants, antimicrobial lipopeptides produced by bacteria, and lyso- and glycolipids that have multiple functions in the living cell. This project aims at a better understanding of the properties and functions of biosurfactants which are much less characterized than synthetic detergents. This is necessary not only for a better understanding of their functions in living organisms. It becomes also increasingly clear that biosurfactants and their analogs are superior to synthetic ones for many applications; they are biologically degradable and environmentally safe, produced from renewable sources, more bio-tolerable for medical, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic applications, and often much more effective. Tedious, empirical searches for suitable means to isolate and study membrane proteins, currently one of the most important, emerging fields in molecular biology and biomedical research, have established protocols using biosurfactants and their analogs, without answering the question why these molecules preserve the structure and function of the proteins whereas simple, synthetic detergents often don't. We will study what makes these compounds so special and superior and how to select and apply them most favorably, particularly in applications where their interaction with cell membranes is crucial. To this end, we use sophisticated, physical-chemical techniques such as time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy, microcalorimetry, and others.