Synthesis and patterning of tunable multiscale materials with engineered cells

Nat Mater. 2014 May;13(5):515-23. doi: 10.1038/nmat3912. Epub 2014 Mar 23.


Many natural biological systems--such as biofilms, shells and skeletal tissues--are able to assemble multifunctional and environmentally responsive multiscale assemblies of living and non-living components. Here, by using inducible genetic circuits and cellular communication circuits to regulate Escherichia coli curli amyloid production, we show that E. coli cells can organize self-assembling amyloid fibrils across multiple length scales, producing amyloid-based materials that are either externally controllable or undergo autonomous patterning. We also interfaced curli fibrils with inorganic materials, such as gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) and quantum dots (QDs), and used these capabilities to create an environmentally responsive biofilm-based electrical switch, produce gold nanowires and nanorods, co-localize AuNPs with CdTe/CdS QDs to modulate QD fluorescence lifetimes, and nucleate the formation of fluorescent ZnS QDs. This work lays a foundation for synthesizing, patterning, and controlling functional composite materials with engineered cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry*
  • Biocompatible Materials / metabolism*
  • Biofilms
  • Cell Engineering / methods*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism
  • Gold / chemistry
  • Materials Testing
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Metal Nanoparticles / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Nanotechnology
  • Quantum Dots / chemistry


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • csgA protein, E coli
  • Crl protein, Bacteria
  • Gold