Bioengineering Single Crystal Growth

Project: Research project

Project Details


Mineralized tissues are sophisticated organic-inorganic composites with highly hierarchical architecture down to nm-scale. Functional roles include mechanical support, feeding, locomotion, defense, and sensing of light, gravity, and the magnetic field. Highly evolved design strategies result in high bone toughness at low weight, self-sharpening teeth, self-repair capability, and sustainable syntheses. Despite these attractive properties and great recent progress in bio-inspired materials science and chemistry, many of the hallmarks of biological crystal growth have yet to be reproduced in vitro: polymorph control, curving and/or branching single crystals, and nm scale control of organic-inorganic composites. Clearly, much could be gained by developing a biotechnological alternative to materials synthesis. In prior work, the PI's team learned how to control the location and orientation of rod-shaped single crystalline spicules of calcite (CaCO3) by growing primary mesenchyme cells (PMCs) from the sea urchin embryo on micro-patterned cell culture substrates. In a breakthrough discovery, the team recently found that PMC switch from bidirectional crystal growth parallel to the calcite c-axis to triradiate growth parallel to the a-axes upon treatment with a recombinant sea urchin homolog of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). This unique system provides a basis for investigating and expropriating biological mechanisms of single crystal growth and offers an innovative approach to genetically engineered materials - building on and expanding a materials genome in the literal sense of the word.
Effective start/end date9/1/158/31/19


  • National Science Foundation (DMR‐1508399)


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