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Development of functionalised polyelectrolyte capsules using filamentous Escherichia coli cells

Franziska L Lederer1*, Tobias J Günther1, Ulrike Weinert1, Johannes Raff12 and Katrin Pollmann1

Author Affiliations

1 Helmholtz-Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology, Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, 01314, Dresden, Germany

2 Institute of Resource Ecology, Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, 01314, , Dresden, Germany

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Microbial Cell Factories 2012, 11:163  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-11-163

Published: 23 December 2012



Escherichia coli is one of the best studied microorganisms and finds multiple applications especially as tool in the heterologous production of interesting proteins of other organisms. The heterologous expression of special surface (S-) layer proteins caused the formation of extremely long E. coli cells which leave transparent tubes when they divide into single E. coli cells. Such natural structures are of high value as bio-templates for the development of bio-inorganic composites for many applications. In this study we used genetically modified filamentous Escherichia coli cells as template for the design of polyelectrolyte tubes that can be used as carrier for functional molecules or particles. Diversity of structures of biogenic materials has the potential to be used to construct inorganic or polymeric superior hybrid materials that reflect the form of the bio-template. Such bio-inspired materials are of great interest in diverse scientific fields like Biology, Chemistry and Material Science and can find application for the construction of functional materials or the bio-inspired synthesis of inorganic nanoparticles.


Genetically modified filamentous E. coli cells were fixed in 2% glutaraldehyde and coated with alternating six layers of the polyanion polyelectrolyte poly(sodium-4styrenesulfonate) (PSS) and polycation polyelectrolyte poly(allylamine-hydrochloride) (PAH). Afterwards we dissolved the E. coli cells with 1.2% sodium hypochlorite, thus obtaining hollow polyelectrolyte tubes of 0.7 μm in diameter and 5–50 μm in length. For functionalisation the polyelectrolyte tubes were coated with S-layer protein polymers followed by metallisation with Pd(0) particles. These assemblies were analysed with light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy.


The thus constructed new material offers possibilities for diverse applications like novel catalysts or metal nanowires for electrical devices. The novelty of this work is the use of filamentous E. coli templates and the use of S-layer proteins in a new material construct.

Escherichia coli; S-layer; Polyelectrolytes; Layer-by-layer (LbL); Palladium; SEM; TEM; Nanoparticle