Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Engineers design 'living materials': Hybrid materials combine bacterial cells with nonliving elements that emit light

Date:
March 23, 2014
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:
Inspired by natural materials such as bone -- a matrix of minerals and other substances, including living cells -- engineers have coaxed bacterial cells to produce biofilms that can incorporate nonliving materials, such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots. These "living materials" combine the advantages of live cells, which respond to their environment, produce complex biological molecules, and span multiple length scales, with the benefits of nonliving materials, which add functions such as conducting electricity or emitting light.

An artist's rendering of a bacterial cell engineered to produce amyloid nanofibers that incorporate particles such as quantum dots (red and green spheres) or gold nanoparticles.
Credit: Yan Liang

Inspired by natural materials such as bone -- a matrix of minerals and other substances, including living cells -- MIT engineers have coaxed bacterial cells to produce biofilms that can incorporate nonliving materials, such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots.

These "living materials" combine the advantages of live cells, which respond to their environment, produce complex biological molecules, and span multiple length scales, with the benefits of nonliving materials, which add functions such as conducting electricity or emitting light.

The new materials represent a simple demonstration of the power of this approach, which could one day be used to design more complex devices such as solar cells, self-healing materials, or diagnostic sensors, says Timothy Lu, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and biological engineering. Lu is the senior author of a paper describing the living functional materials in the March 23 issue of Nature Materials.

"Our idea is to put the living and the nonliving worlds together to make hybrid materials that have living cells in them and are functional," Lu says. "It's an interesting way of thinking about materials synthesis, which is very different from what people do now, which is usually a top-down approach."

The paper's lead author is Allen Chen, an MIT-Harvard MD-PhD student. Other authors are postdocs Zhengtao Deng, Amanda Billings, Urartu Seker, and Bijan Zakeri; recent MIT graduate Michelle Lu; and graduate student Robert Citorik.

Self-assembling materials

Lu and his colleagues chose to work with the bacterium E. coli because it naturally produces biofilms that contain so-called "curli fibers" -- amyloid proteins that help E. coli attach to surfaces. Each curli fiber is made from a repeating chain of identical protein subunits called CsgA, which can be modified by adding protein fragments called peptides. These peptides can capture nonliving materials such as gold nanoparticles, incorporating them into the biofilms.

By programming cells to produce different types of curli fibers under certain conditions, the researchers were able to control the biofilms' properties and create gold nanowires, conducting biofilms, and films studded with quantum dots, or tiny crystals that exhibit quantum mechanical properties. They also engineered the cells so they could communicate with each other and change the composition of the biofilm over time.

First, the MIT team disabled the bacterial cells' natural ability to produce CsgA, then replaced it with an engineered genetic circuit that produces CsgA but only under certain conditions -- specifically, when a molecule called AHL is present. This puts control of curli fiber production in the hands of the researchers, who can adjust the amount of AHL in the cells' environment. When AHL is present, the cells secrete CsgA, which forms curli fibers that coalesce into a biofilm, coating the surface where the bacteria are growing.

The researchers then engineered E. coli cells to produce CsgA tagged with peptides composed of clusters of the amino acid histidine, but only when a molecule called aTc is present. The two types of engineered cells can be grown together in a colony, allowing researchers to control the material composition of the biofilm by varying the amounts of AHL and aTc in the environment. If both are present, the film will contain a mix of tagged and untagged fibers. If gold nanoparticles are added to the environment, the histidine tags will grab onto them, creating rows of gold nanowires, and a network that conducts electricity.

'Cells that talk to each other'

The researchers also demonstrated that the cells can coordinate with each other to control the composition of the biofilm. They designed cells that produce untagged CsgA and also AHL, which then stimulates other cells to start producing histidine-tagged CsgA.

"It's a really simple system but what happens over time is you get curli that's increasingly labeled by gold particles. It shows that indeed you can make cells that talk to each other and they can change the composition of the material over time," Lu says. "Ultimately, we hope to emulate how natural systems, like bone, form. No one tells bone what to do, but it generates a material in response to environmental signals."

To add quantum dots to the curli fibers, the researchers engineered cells that produce curli fibers along with a different peptide tag, called SpyTag, which binds to quantum dots that are coated with SpyCatcher, a protein that is SpyTag's partner. These cells can be grown along with the bacteria that produce histidine-tagged fibers, resulting in a material that contains both quantum dots and gold nanoparticles.

These hybrid materials could be worth exploring for use in energy applications such as batteries and solar cells, Lu says. The researchers are also interested in coating the biofilms with enzymes that catalyze the breakdown of cellulose, which could be useful for converting agricultural waste to biofuels. Other potential applications include diagnostic devices and scaffolds for tissue engineering.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The original article was written by Anne Trafton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Allen Y. Chen, Zhengtao Deng, Amanda N. Billings, Urartu O. S. Seker, MichelleY. Lu, Robert J. Citorik, Bijan Zakeri, Timothy K. Lu. Synthesis and patterning of tunable multiscale materials with engineered cells. Nature Materials, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nmat3912

Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Engineers design 'living materials': Hybrid materials combine bacterial cells with nonliving elements that emit light." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140323152144.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2014, March 23). Engineers design 'living materials': Hybrid materials combine bacterial cells with nonliving elements that emit light. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140323152144.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Engineers design 'living materials': Hybrid materials combine bacterial cells with nonliving elements that emit light." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140323152144.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

AFP (July 25, 2014) Europe's highest train, the little train of Artouste in the French Pyrenees, celebrates its 80th birthday. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans

TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans

AP (July 24, 2014) TSA administrator, John Pistole's took part in the Aspen Security Forum 2014, where he answered questions on lifting of the ban on flights into Israel's Tel Aviv airport and whether politics played a role in lifting the ban. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

AP (July 24, 2014) Mobile phone companies and communities across the country are going to new lengths to disguise those unsightly cellphone towers. From a church bell tower to a flagpole, even a pencil, some towers are trying to make a point. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Algonquin Power Goes Activist on Its Target Gas Natural

Algonquin Power Goes Activist on Its Target Gas Natural

TheStreet (July 23, 2014) When The Deal's Amanda Levin exclusively reported that Gas Natural had been talking to potential suitors, the Ohio company responded with a flat denial, claiming its board had not talked to anyone about a possible sale. Lo and behold, Canadian utility Algonquin Power and Utilities not only had approached the company, but it did it three times. Its last offer was for $13 per share as Gas Natural's was trading at a 60-day moving average of about $12.50 per share. Now Algonquin, which has a 4.9% stake in Gas Natural, has taken its case to shareholders, calling on them to back its proposals or, possibly, a change in the target's board. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins