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IMPLANT Report Summary

Project ID: 282101
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - IMPLANT (Silicon transport proteins in biological nanoscience and synthetic biology)

This project set out to understand and exploit the activity of an unusual group of proteins - the silicon transporters from diatom algae. These proteins are probably unique in the natural world because they seem to make direct interactions with silicon compounds. They are important because they play a critical role in the formation of a silica (glass) sheath that surrounds the diatom cell, and that is required by many diatoms to grow; this become significant when one considers that diatoms carry out ~20% of all the photosynthesis on Earth, and that their growth is critical in the global carbon cycle. We sought to understand the unusual protein-silicon interactions at the molecular level by carrying out the first detailed study of the structure and function of diatom silicon transporters. The goals were to provide a new insight into this intriguing corner of biology, and to provide a basis for exploiting silicon transport in the synthesis of new silica nanomaterials.

This project required that we establish a series of new methods for characterising these proteins. These new methods were a key outcome from the work, since they provide an experimental platform that can be used in the future by ourselves and others. We used these methods to provide the first direct information on the activity of this protein family, and these results led to a new model for silicon transporter function. The immediate impact of this work lies mainly in generating new basic knowledge concerning an important but enigmatic biological process; and in developing new experimental methods so that these proteins can be more easily studied in the future. The recent discovery of silicon transporters in other organisms, and the widespread existence of similar proteins in many land plants, offers the chance to explore the mechanisms that are used for silicon transport across biology. The achievements and outcomes of this Starting Grant puts us in an excellent position to lead this effort.

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United Kingdom
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