Biomimetic Strain-Stiffening Self-Assembled Hydrogels

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Supramolecular structures with strain-stiffening properties are ubiquitous in nature but remain rare in the lab. Herein, we report on strain-stiffening supramolecular hydrogels that are entirely produced through the self-assembly of synthetic molecular gelators. The involved gelators self-assemble into semi-flexible fibers, which thereby crosslink into hydrogels. Interestingly, these hydrogels are capable of stiffening in response to applied stress, resembling biological intermediate filaments system. Furthermore, strain-stiffening hydrogel networks embedded with liposomes are constructed through orthogonal self-assembly of gelators and phospholipids, mimicking biological tissues in both architecture and mechanical properties. This work furthers the development of biomimetic soft materials with mechanical responsiveness and presents potentially enticing applications in diverse fields, such as tissue engineering, artificial life, and strain sensors.