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Microbial cells offer untapped nanotech potential; journal

By Nick Taylor , 06-Jul-2010
Last updated on 08-Jul-2010 at 13:02 GMT

The potential of microbial cells as producers of nanomaterials has been underestimated and further research is needed to improve the situation, according to an academic.

Nanotechnology, and its applicability to pharma, is an area of interest to researchers. However, Antonio Villaverde, from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, writes in the journal Microbial Cell Factories that research into one area of nanomaterial production needs to increase.

Villaverde, who is also editor-in-chief of the journal, says the potential of microbial cells in the production of nanomaterials has been underestimated. He expects the true potential to emerge in coming years and has called on researchers to submit more papers in this area to the journal.

Reconsidering the potential of the method “should prompt a careful revisiting of the microbial cell factories as the most versatile biological platforms to supply functional materials for nanotechnological applications”, writes Villaverde.

Belief in the potential of microbial cells is underpinned by their characteristics. Villaverde writes that the “wide physiological diversity, small size, genetic manipulability and controlled culturability” makes microbial cells ideal producers of nanostructures, materials and tools for nanoscience.

Materials that can be produced in microbial cells include: fully natural products, such as viruses, polymers and magnetosomes; engineered proteins or protein constructs, such as virus-like particles (VLPs); and peptide-displaying phages or cells and tailored metal particles.

Research demonstrating some the potential of the method has been submitted to Microbial Cell Factories. For instance, polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) nanosized granules have been shown to have potential in protein purification.

Other research has “improved the production of clinically relevant microbial materials suitable for nanoparticle in vitro fabrication including alginate, hyaluronic acid (HA) and PHA”, writes Villaverde.

However, the breadth and depth of nanomaterial research submitted to Microbial Cell Factories is limited, writes Villaverde. Consequently, he calls on researchers to increase efforts in this area to uncover the potential of microbial cells in nanoscience.

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