The atomic force microscope (AFM) is introduced as a biomolecular manipulation machine capable of assembling biological molecules into well-defined molecular structures. Native collagen molecules were mechanically directed into well-defined, two-dimensional templates exhibiting patterns with feature sizes ranging from a few nanometers to several hundreds of micrometers. The resulting nanostructured collagen matrices were only approximately 3-nm thick, exhibited an extreme mechanical stability, and maintained their properties over the time range of several months. Our results directly demonstrate the plasticity of biological assemblies and provide insight into the physical mechanisms by which biological structures may be organized by cells in vivo. These nanoscopic templates may serve as platforms on non-biological surfaces to direct molecular and cellular processes.
2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.