A Miniature Mesh: Using Viruses to Construct Nanomaterials

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This mesh of metal nanowires was built by genetically engineered viruses.  The image was captured by John Burpo and Angela Belcher of the Biomolecular Materials Laboratory at the Koch Institute.

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F. John Burpo, Angela Belcher
Biomolecular Materials Laboratory, Koch Institute
Scanning Electron Micrograph

The M13 virus is a thin, spaghetti-like strand that infects E. coli bacteria.  With a few careful genetic alterations, however, M13 becomes a tiny factory.  Researchers in Angela Belcher’s Biomolecular Materials Lab have engineered the virus to assemble many practical structures including battery electrodes.

Here, the researchers linked many copies of M13 together to form a dense, three-dimensional mesh.  John Burpo, a graduate student, was curious whether the holes he saw on the surface were also present deep inside the mesh; the answer to this question would affect the potential applications of the material.  To find out, John used a powerful beam of ions to burn deep into the mesh (center), revealing definite holes beneath the surface.

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John Burpo explains how and why he captured this image of a virus-engineered mesh.