Self-assembly enables exquisite control at the smallest scale and generates order among macromolecular-building blocks that remain too small to be manipulated individually. Environmental cues, such as heating, can trigger the organization of these materials from individual molecules to multipartixcle assemblies with a variety of compositions and functions. Synthetic as well as biological polymers have been engineered for these purposes; however, biological strategies can offer unparalleled control over the composition of these macromolecular-building blocks. Biologic polymers are macromolecules composed of monomeric units that can be precisely tailored at the genetic level; furthermore, they can often utilize endogenous biodegradation pathways, which may enhance their potential clinical applications. DNA (nucleotides), polysaccharides (carbohydrates), and proteins (amino acids) have all been engineered to self-assemble into nanostructures in response to a change in temperature. This focus article reviews the growing body of literature exploring temperature-dependent nano-assembly of these biological macromolecules, summarizes some of their physical properties, and discusses future directions.
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.