Cellular complexity captured in durable silica biocomposites

Kaehr B, Townson JL, Kalinich RM, et al. Cellular complexity captured in durable silica biocomposites. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Oct 8 2012;109(43):17336-17341.


Tissue-derived cultured cells exhibit a remarkable range of morphological features in vitro, depending on phenotypic expression and environmental interactions. Translation of these cellular architectures into inorganic materials would provide routes to generate hierarchical nanomaterials with stabilized structures and functions. Here, we describe the fabrication of cell/silica composites (CSCs) and their conversion to silica replicas using mammalian cells as scaffolds to direct complex structure formation. Under mildly acidic solution conditions, silica deposition is restricted to the molecularly crowded cellular template. Inter- and intracellular heterogeneity from the nano- to macroscale is captured and dimensionally preserved in CSCs following drying and subjection to extreme temperatures allowing, for instance, size and shape preserving pyrolysis of cellular architectures to form conductive carbon replicas. The structural and behavioral malleability of the starting material (cultured cells) provides opportunities to develop robust and economical biocomposites with programmed structures and functions.Keywords: sol-gel, biomineralization, biopreservation, frustule