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Science. 2004 Mar 12;303(5664):1656-8.

Microbial polysaccharides template assembly of nanocrystal fibers.

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  • 1Department of Earth and Planetary Science, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Biological systems can produce extraordinary inorganic structures and morphologies. The mechanisms of synthesis are poorly understood but are of great interest for engineering novel materials. We use spectromicroscopy to show that microbially generated submicrometer-diameter iron oxyhydroxide (FeOOH) filaments contain polysaccharides, providing an explanation for the formation of akaganeite pseudo-single crystals with aspect ratios of approximately 1000:1. We infer that the cells extrude the polysaccharide strands to localize FeOOH precipitation in proximity to the cell membrane to harness the proton gradient for energy generation. Characterization of organic compounds with high spatial resolution, correlated with mineralogical information, should improve our understanding of biomineralization mechanisms.

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