Silica Nanostructures Produced Using Diatom Peptides with Designed Post‐Translational Modifications


Diatoms produce intricately patterned silica structures under ambient conditions, a process initiated by post‐translationally modified silaffin peptides that nucleate silicic acid. Designing these peptides would enable the production of silica nanostructures with desired properties; however, the functional effects of modifications are poorly understood. Here, Escherichia coliis used to express and modify recombinant silaffin R5 peptide from the diatom Cylindrotheca fusiformis. A library of 38 enzymes is tested for R5 modifications in vitro, from which active methyltransferases, kinases, acetyltransferases, oxidases, and myristoyltransferases are identified from diatoms, humans, yeast, and bacteria. Modified R5 peptides are used for silica precipitation and the impacts on particle size, shape, porosity, and surface area are quantified. In vivo pathways are designed to coexpress R5 and a modifying enzyme and the resulting peptide is used to nucleate silica nanostructures with controlled size (100–3500 nm), porosity (20–635 m2 g−1), or embedded with melanin. It is found that phosphorylation reduces the need for inorganic phosphate during silica synthesis. The simultaneous methylation and phosphorylation of R5 leads to smaller particles requiring less inorganic phosphate. Inspired by diatoms, the use of post‐translationally modified peptides will enable the control of silica morphology under ambient conditions, with potential applications in electronics and photonics.

ICB Affiliated Authors

Andrea K. Wallace, Nicolas Chanut, Christopher A. Voigt
Peer-Reviewed Article
Advanced Functional Materials