A 3-year $562,000 award from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) will allow researchers from The Ohio State University to study the crystallization of magnetite (Fe3O4) by magnetotactic bacteria.
An aspect motivating the study is the sheer demand for magnetic nanoparticles. They are in high-demand in emerging areas of technology and medicine, such as high-density data storage, targeted drug delivery, magnetic resonance imaging, scaffolding for tissue regeneration, and environmental remediation. The "ideal" particle for many of these applications is a nanometer scale magnet that has defined shape and morphology, narrow size distribution, high crystallinity, and controlled magnetic direction. These magnetic particles are extremely small, somewhere between the size of a human antibody (10 nanometers) and a flu virus (100 nanometers).
When asked why a focus on magnetotactic bacteria, Brian Lower, lead principal investigator of the project and associate professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources, noted, “magnetotactic bacteria, naturally found in many aquatic ecosystems on Earth, have the innate ability to grow crystals of the mineral magnetite (Fe3O4) that are the correct shape, size, crystallinity for these emerging applications”. This makes them ideal organisms to study. Steven K. Lower, co-principal investigator and professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources and the School of Earth Sciences at The Ohio State University, believes that their research will lead to a better understanding of the genes and proteins that these bacteria use to fabricate magnetic nanoparticles.
The project also integrates an educational outreach component that builds on a longstanding interest among the investigators to engage youth in the field of environmental microbiology. The investigators will lead an international field camp on the Caribbean Island of Bonaire where middle – and high-school students and teachers will learn about geobiology and experience hands-on learning opportunities and engage in the scientific process.
Collaborating on the project is co-principal investigator Dennis A. Bazylinski, professor and director of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nevada,Las Vegas.