Cell-directed Synthesis of Patterned, Multifunctional Nanomaterials

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Cell-directed synthesis of patterned, multifunctional nanomaterials
Professor Timothy Lu
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT
External Link (be.mit.edu)
Allen Chen
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT
Managed By
Jon Gilbert
MIT Technology Licensing Officer
Patent Protection

Cell-directed synthesis of multifunctional nanopatterns and nanomaterials

US Patent 9,580,480
Synthesis and patterning of tunable multiscale materials with engineered cells
Nature Materials, DOI: 10.1038/NMAT3912


This is a broad platform technology for the cell-directed assembly of nanomaterials into complex structures with enhanced properties. Applications include high-performance structures for the electronics industry, magnetic and semiconducting nanowires, and quantum dot assembly.

Problem Addressed

The precise assembly of structures that combine organic and inorganic materials and range in size from the nanoscale to the macroscale has been a challenge for the synthetic biology and nanotechnology fields. Current technologies are generally restricted in terms of material diversity, anisotropic patterning, and the degree of control over assembly. Existing phage-based methods, for example, are limited by the length and dimensions of the phage, in addition to restricted subunit patterning due to uncontrolled, random integration (Courchesne et al. 2014). This technology provides the means to combine and pattern a variety of simultaneously expressed heterologous polypeptides to generate structures of varying dimensions, sizes, and functionality in a temporally and/or environmentally (e.g., UV, visible light) inducible manner. 


This system is comprised of cells engineered to express surface-displayed amyloid fibers bound to heterologous polypeptides, which can in turn bind a variety of nanomaterials. The expression and assembly of multiple amyloid subunits generates complex nanostructures. The domains and patterns of the assembled structures are determined by: 1) the nanomaterials attached to amyloid fibers (e.g., metals, quantum dots, proteins), 2) the binding properties of the amyloid fibers, and 3) inducible control over amyloid fiber expression. Additionally, multiple cells can be combined to generate higher scale, anisotropic patterns of organic and inorganic materials. The structures can be purified after synthesis by destroying the supporting cells (e.g., using specific detergents/chemicals) and leaving behind the fibers and associated materials. 


  • Enhanced control over synthesis
  • Can create complex patterns with different binding domains
  • Can incorporate organic and inorganic materials
  • Can generate structures of varying sizes (nanoscale to macroscale) and dimensions