Nanopatterned protein microrings from a diatom that direct silica morphogenesis

André Scheffel, Nicole Poulsen, Samuel Shian, Nils Kröger
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2011 February 22, 108 (8): 3175-80
Diatoms are eukaryotic microalgae that produce species-specifically structured cell walls made of SiO(2) (silica). Formation of the intricate silica structures of diatoms is regarded as a paradigm for biomolecule-controlled self-assembly of three-dimensional, nano- to microscale-patterned inorganic materials. Silica formation involves long-chain polyamines and phosphoproteins (silaffins and silacidins), which are readily soluble in water, and spontaneously form dynamic supramolecular assemblies that accelerate silica deposition and influence silica morphogenesis in vitro. However, synthesis of diatom-like silica structure in vitro has not yet been accomplished, indicating that additional components are required. Here we describe the discovery and intracellular location of six novel proteins (cingulins) that are integral components of a silica-forming organic matrix (microrings) in the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana. The cingulin-containing microrings are specifically associated with girdle bands, which constitute a substantial part of diatom biosilica. Remarkably, the microrings exhibit protein-based nanopatterns that closely resemble characteristic features of the girdle band silica nanopatterns. Upon the addition of silicic acid the microrings become rapidly mineralized in vitro generating nanopatterned silica replicas of the microring structures. A silica-forming organic matrix with characteristic nanopatterns was also discovered in the diatom Coscinodiscus wailesii, which suggests that preassembled protein-based templates might be general components of the cellular machinery for silica morphogenesis in diatoms. These data provide fundamentally new insight into the molecular mechanisms of biological silica morphogenesis, and may lead to the development of self-assembled 3D mineral forming protein scaffolds with designed nanopatterns for a host of applications in nanotechnology.

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