Synthetic Biology: Refactoring the Genetics of Metal Nanocluster Synthesis

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Bacterial-derived metal nanoclusters and their applications. (top) Many bacteria have the capability to synthesize “magnetosomes,” which are iron oxide crystals surrounded by a lipid membrane. These have many potential applications, including as drug delivery devices, catalysts, and ferrofluids. This project seeks to develop these bacteria as a platform for the green production of metal nanoclusters as well as the discovery of new clusters with physical properties that could enable new applications.

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At the nanometer scale, clusters of metal atoms take on unusual physical properties. For example, they can exhibit superparamagnetism, absorb electromagnetic radiation, and perform catalytic functions. As such, they have broad applications to the Army, including electronics, MEMS, photonics, catalysts, and biomedical applications. Many of the applications require precise control over the shape and arrangement of atoms in the cluster. Some bacteria have the capability to build such structures with high fidelity in water, with minimal nutrients, and at room temperature. We will apply tools from synthetic biology to access this capability to discover new materials with physical properties of interest for Army applications and create a green microbial manufacturing platform.



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