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Biomineralization: Understanding of basic mechanisms for the design of novel strategies in nanobiotechnology

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Biomineralisation and nanotechnology

Biomineralisation is the process by which living organisms produce minerals, often to harden or stiffen existing tissues. The mechanisms to form nano-structured biominerals with high precision and in large copy number are extremely interesting for nanotechnology.

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To understand the processes involved in biomineralisation, cooperation is required between molecular and cell biologists, inorganic and physical chemists, and computational scientists. The EU-funded Marie Curie Initial Training Network project BIOMINTEC focused on the formation of biominerals consisting of calcium carbonate or biosilica glass. The goal of this multidisciplinary network was to understand the basic principles of biomineralisation and their application in nanotechnology. For initial studies of biosilicification researchers used sea sponges and unicellular choanoflagellates as a model. First, proteins involved in biosilica formation were identified and characterised. The structural properties of the siliceous costal strips of choanoflagellates were also analysed. A further topic of research was the investigation of organic–inorganic hybrid nanomaterials with complex architectures and properties. Researchers were able to synthesise, for the first time, nano-structured crystalline tin dioxide using silicatein, under mild physiological conditions. To obtain novel hierarchical nanomaterials, the catalytic activity of silicatein was used to synthesise nanocomposites of various metal oxides that mimic the layered structure of spicules. Furthermore, researchers developed new methodologies for the use of mass spectrometry for analysis of the early stages of silica formation. They showed that proteins and peptides can be combined in very different ways to yield novel materials and composites with unusual composition and form. In conclusion, training network partners constructed a database of all the proteins associated with calcium carbonate biomineralisation in metazoans. The educational aim of this project was accomplished through training of young researchers in the most advanced techniques to study biomineralisation. Understanding of the principles of biomineralisation is of high importance for the development of novel strategies in nanotechnology. Therefore, the BIOMINTEC initiative benefited the future careers of the young researchers.

Keywords

Biomineralisation, nanotechnology, biomineral, silicatein, nanomaterial, silica formation

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