The Impact of Bioconjugation on the Interfacial Activity of a Protein Biosurfactant

Biosurfactants, are surface active molecules that can be produced by renewable, industrially scalable biologic processes. DAMP4, a designer biosurfactant, enables the modification of interfaces via genetic or chemical fusion to functional moieties. However, bioconjugation of addressable amines introduces heterogeneity that limits the precision of functionalization as well as the resolution of interfacial characterization. Here we designed DAMP4 variants with cysteine point mutations to allow for site-specific bioconjugation. The DAMP4 variants were shown to retain the structural stability and interfacial activity characteristic of the parent molecule, while permitting efficient and specific conjugation of polyethylene glycol (PEG). PEGylation results in a considerable reduction on the interfacial activity of both single and double mutants. Comparison of conjugates with one or two conjugation sites shows that both the number of conjugates as well as the mass of conjugated material impacts the interfacial activity of DAMP4. As a result, the ability of DAMP4 variants with multiple PEG conjugates to impart colloidal stability on peptide-stabilized emulsions is reduced. We suggest that this is due to constraints on the structure of amphiphilic helices at the interface. Specific and efficient bioconjugation permits the exploration and investigation of the interfacial properties of designer protein biosurfactants with molecular precision. Our findings should therefore inform the design and modification of biosurfactants for their increasing use in industrial processes, and nutritional and pharmaceutical formulations.