Developing novel photonic nanomaterials inspired by photosynthetic biomembranes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


Photosynthesis is essential for life on Earth and a source of great inspiration for the design of new optically-active materials [1]. "Light-harvesting" (LH) proteins found in plant chloroplasts absorb photons of light using a network of coordinated pigment molecules (e.g. chlorophylls). Energy absorbed is transferred between LH proteins, which act collectively as a satellite dish for energy trapping with remarkable quantum efficiency [2]. Yet, they are inherently limited by lack of stability of proteins and limited wavelength range of light absorbed. Novel systems with enhanced optical properties and greater stability can be designed by interfacing LH proteins with non-natural nanomaterials [3].
This PhD project will investigate the potential for integrating nanomaterials, such as lipid dyes and quantum dots, with photosynthetic systems. LH proteins and lipids will be used as building blocks and combined with a range of nanomaterials to generate modular biomembrane systems with an enhanced absorption range. You will use absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy and graphical analysis to quantify the efficiency of energy transfer, showing the improvement over the protein alone. The micro- and nanoscale organization of such LH systems can be controlled with surface patterning techniques and characterized with atomic force and fluorescence microscopy. Objectives include: (i) proof-of-concept demonstration of a bio/hybrid system with high efficiency energy transfer, (ii) micro-patterning these LH membranes on solid surfaces, (iii) exploring applications for novel chip-based devices. This project is suitable for applicants with an interest in biophysics, biochemistry, or nanoscience.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509681/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1807029 Studentship EP/N509681/1 01/10/2016 30/06/2020 Ashley Hancock
Description During the course of this award a system has been developed which utilised model lipid membranes as a framework to allow the effective absorption range of the photosynthetic protein LHCII to be enhanced by a synthetic lipid-tethered dye. This work has been published as a communication article in the scientific journal Nanoscale, the abstract of the paper is included below and the full paper can be found with the doi:

Bio-hybrid nanomaterials have great potential for combining the most desirable aspects of biomolecules and the contemporary concepts of nanotechnology to create highly efficient light-harvesting materials. Light-harvesting proteins are optimized to absorb and transfer solar energy with remarkable efficiency but have a spectral range that is limited by their natural pigment complement. Herein, we present the development of model membranes ("proteoliposomes") in which the absorption range of the membrane protein Light-Harvesting Complex II (LHCII) is effectively enhanced by the addition of lipid-tethered Texas Red (TR) chromophores. Energy transfer from TR to LHCII is observed with up to 94% efficiency and increased LHCII fluorescence of up to three-fold when excited in the region of lowest natural absorption. The new self-assembly procedure offers the modularity to control the concentrations incorporated of TR and LHCII, allowing energy transfer and fluorescence to be tuned. Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Microscopy provides single-proteoliposome-level quantification of energy transfer efficiency and confirms that functionality is retained on surfaces. Designer proteoliposomes could act as a controllable light-harvesting nanomaterial and are a promising step in the development of bio-hybrid light-harvesting systems.
Exploitation Route This research represents a step forward in the development of bio-hybrid energy-absorbing nanomaterials with potential future application in bio-hybrid solar cells.
Sectors Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Description Collaboration between Morigaki group in Kobe and Adams-Evans groups in Leeds (Model Membrane Platforms for Light-Harvesting) 
Organisation Kobe University
Country Japan 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Securing funding from Royal Society with collaborator Dr Kenichi Morigaki (Univ Kobe) - IEC\R3\183029 - International Exchanges 2018 Cost Share (Japan). Performing research to characterize samples sent from Japan to Leeds: optical spectroscopy and microscopy, atomic force microscopy. Generating new and improved samples n Leeds. Transfer of knowledge and expertise to Kobe. Hosted our collaborators in Leeds for one research visit of and undertaken one research visit to Japan. More planned.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborator is Dr Kenichi Morigaki (Univ Kobe). Jointly securing funding from Royal Society - IEC\R3\183029 - International Exchanges 2018 Cost Share (Japan). Preparing samples in Kobe to send to Leeds. Transfer of knowledge and expertise to Leeds. Reciprocal visits.
Impact Ongoing...
Start Year 2019
Description Collaboration between Schlau-Cohen group in MIT and Adams group in Leeds 
Organisation Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Preparation and analysis of biological samples and shipping these to our collaborators at MIT. Data analysis and discussions. Securing seed funding from our University for travel for our initial visit to Boston.
Collaborator Contribution Performing ultrafast spectroscopy experiments on samples generated in Leeds. Data analysis and discussions.
Impact Ongoing...
Start Year 2019