Enzymatically Triggered Jack-in-the-Box-like Hydrogels


Enzymes can support the synthesis or degradation of biomacromolecules in natural processes. Here, we demonstrate that enzymes can induce a macroscopic-directed movement of microstructured hydrogels following a mechanism that we call a “Jack-in-the-box” effect. The material’s design is based on the formation of internal stresses induced by a deformation load on an architectured microscale, which are kinetically frozen by the generation of polyester locking domains, similar to a Jack-in-the-box toy (i.e., a compressed spring stabilized by a closed box lid). To induce the controlled macroscopic movement, the locking domains are equipped with enzyme-specific cleavable bonds (i.e., a box with a lock and key system). As a result of enzymatic reaction, a transformed shape is achieved by the release of internal stresses. There is an increase in entropy in combination with a swelling-supported stretching of polymer chains within the microarchitectured hydrogel (i.e., the encased clown pops-up with a pre-stressed movement when the box is unlocked). This utilization of an enzyme as a physiological stimulus may offer new approaches to create interactive and enzyme-specific materials for different applications such as an optical indicator of the enzyme’s presence or actuators and sensors in biotechnology and in fermentation processes.
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