Biogenic gas nanostructures as ultrasonic molecular reporters

Nat Nanotechnol. 2014 Apr;9(4):311-6. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2014.32. Epub 2014 Mar 16.


Ultrasound is among the most widely used non-invasive imaging modalities in biomedicine, but plays a surprisingly small role in molecular imaging due to a lack of suitable molecular reporters on the nanoscale. Here, we introduce a new class of reporters for ultrasound based on genetically encoded gas nanostructures from microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea. Gas vesicles are gas-filled protein-shelled compartments with typical widths of 45-250 nm and lengths of 100-600 nm that exclude water and are permeable to gas. We show that gas vesicles produce stable ultrasound contrast that is readily detected in vitro and in vivo, that their genetically encoded physical properties enable multiple modes of imaging, and that contrast enhancement through aggregation permits their use as molecular biosensors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biosensing Techniques / methods*
  • Contrast Media / chemistry*
  • Gases / chemistry*
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Ultrasonography / methods*


  • Contrast Media
  • Gases