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Recombinant E. Coli As a biofactory for the biosynthesis of diverse nanomaterials

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)


IMAGE: The biosynthesis of diverse nanomaterials using recombinant E. coli. This schematic diagram shows the overall conceptualization of the biosynthesis of various single and multi-element nanomaterials using recombinant E. coli under... view more 

Credit: KAIST

A metabolic research group at KAIST and Chung-Ang University in Korea has developed a recombinant E. coli strain that biosynthesizes 60 different nanomaterials covering 35 elements on the periodic table. Among the elements, the team could biosynthesize 33 novel nanomaterials for the first time, advancing the forward design of nanomaterials through the biosynthesis of various single and multi-elements.

The study analyzed the nanomaterial biosynthesis conditions using a Pourbaix diagram to predict the producibility and crystallinity. Researchers studied a Pourbaix diagram to predict the stable chemical species of each element for nanomaterial biosynthesis at varying levels of reduction potential (Eh) and pH. Based on the Pourbaix diagram analyses, the initial pH of the reaction was changed from 6.5 to 7.5, resulting in the biosynthesis of various crystalline nanomaterials that were previously amorphous or not synthesized.

This strategy was extended to biosynthesize multi-element nanomaterials. Various single and multi-element nanomaterials biosynthesized in this research can potentially serve as new and novel nanomaterials for industrial applications such as catalysts, chemical sensors, biosensors, bioimaging, drug delivery, and cancer therapy.

A research group consisting of PhD candidate Yoojin Choi, Associate Professor Doh Chang Lee, and Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST and Associate Professor Tae Jung Park of the Department of Chemistry at Chung-Ang University reported the synthesis. This study, entitled "Recombinant Escherichia coli as a biofactory for various single- and multi-element nanomaterials," was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) on May 21.

A recent successful biosynthesis of nanomaterials under mild conditions without requiring physical and chemical treatments has triggered the exploration of the full biosynthesis capacity of a biological system for producing a diverse range of nanomaterials as well as for understanding biosynthesis mechanisms for crystalline versus amorphous nanomaterials.

There has been increased interest in synthesizing various nanomaterials that have not yet been synthesized for various applications including semiconducting materials, enhanced solar cells, biomedical materials, and many others. This research reports the construction of a recombinant E. coli strain that co-expresses metallothionein, a metal binding protein, and phytochelatin synthase that synthesizes the metal-binding peptide phytochelatin for the biosynthesis of various nanomaterials. Subsequently, an E. coli strain was engineered to produce a diverse range of nanomaterials, including those never biosynthesized before, by using 35 individual elements from the periodic table and also by combining multi-elements.

Distinguished Professor Lee said, "An environmentally-friendly and sustainable process is of much interest for producing nanomaterials by not only chemical and physical methods but biological synthesis. Moreover, there has been much attention paid to producing diverse and novel nanomaterials for new industrial applications. This is the first report to predict the biosynthesis of various nanomaterials, by far the largest number of various single- and multi-elements nanomaterials. The strategies used for nanomaterial biosynthesis in this research will be useful for further diversifying the portfolio of nanomaterials that can be manufactured."



Yoojin Choi, Tae Jung Park, Doh C. Lee, and Sang Yup Lee. Recombinant Escherichia coli as a biofactory for various single and multi-element nanomaterials, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

This work was supported by the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Change on Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries from the Ministry of Science and ICT through the National Research Foundation (NRF) of Korea (NRF-2012M1A2A2026556 and NRF-2012M1A2A2026557).

For further information: Sang Yup Lee, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, KAIST, (, Tel: +82-42-350-3930)

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