Indexed on: 25 Apr '13Published on: 25 Apr '13Published in: Langmuir
Here, we combine experiments with Langmuir trough and atomic force microscopy (AFM) to investigate the reasons for the special properties of layers from the protein HFBII hydrophobin spread on the air-water interface. The hydrophobin interfacial layers possess the highest surface dilatational and shear elastic moduli among all investigated proteins. The AFM images show that the spread HFBII layers are rather inhomogeneous, (i.e., they contain voids, monolayer and multilayer domains). A continuous compression of the layer leads to filling the voids and transformation of a part of the monolayer into a trilayer. The trilayer appears in the form of large surface domains, which can be formed by folding and subduction of parts from the initial monolayer. The trilayer appears also in the form of numerous submicrometer spots, which can be obtained by forcing protein molecules out of the monolayer and their self-assembly into adjacent pimples. Such structures are formed because not only the hydrophobic parts, but also the hydrophilic parts of the HFBII molecules can adhere to each other in the water medium. If a hydrophobin layer is subjected to oscillations, its elasticity considerably increases, up to 500 mN/m, which can be explained with compaction. The relaxation of the layer's tension after expansion or compression follows the same relatively simple law, which refers to two-dimensional diffusion of protein aggregates within the layer. The characteristic diffusion time after compression is longer than after expansion, which can be explained with the impedence of diffusion in the more compact interfacial layer. The results shed light on the relation between the mesoscopic structure of hydrophobin interfacial layers and their unique mechanical properties that find applications for the production of foams and emulsions of extraordinary stability; for the immobilization of functional molecules at surfaces, and as coating agents for surface modification.