Knowledge Based Bio-Economy


Membranes self-generate form and functionality

Project Acronym: MEM-S

Title of project: Bottom-up design and fabrication of industrial bio-inorganic nano-porous membranes with novel functionalities based on principles of protein self-assembly and biomineralization

Research area: Biotechnologies (Nanobiotechnology: functionalised membranes)

Contract No: 244967

EU Contribution: 2820 000 EURO

Start date: January 2010

Duration: 36 Months


There is widespread interest in the development of novel functionalized membranes which can be used as microsieves, as a component of integrated analytical systems, in food processing, drug discovery and diagnostic applications. This project is based on a combination of break-through technologies, developed by the participants in the past that have the potential to impact significantly in nano(bio)technological application. These technologies include the so-called ‘S-layer technology’ that enables the construction of nanoporous protein lattices and the biocatalytic formation of inorganic materials by silicatein, a group of unique enzymes that are able to catalyze the formation of porous silica from soluble precursors. A further technique that will be used is known as and the ‘sol-gel’ technique for encapsulation (immobilization) of biomolecules serving as biocatalyst or as a component of sensors.

The main aim of this project is to design and fabricate nano-porous bio-inorganic membranes with novel functionalities for industrial application using approaches inspired by aspects of molecular biology. The innovative type of the functionalized membranes to be developed in this project exploits two principles: protein self-assembly and enzymatic (silicatein-mediated) deposition of inorganic material used for reinforcement of the membranes as well as for encasing biomolecules, generating new membrane functionalities.

Expected Impact

The new technique will impact on the commercial activities of the three research-based SMEs and the enduser involved in the project. They will be used to produce systems for sample processing in microfluidics based systems and micro-array development, as well as to produce industrial nanosieves. They may also be applied to develop biosensors for use in drinking water systems. The information generated by the project will also impact on the rapidly growing interest in the use of silicate processing proteins from sponges, diatoms and other organisms capable of bio-mineralisation in the formation of mineral-based nanostructures.

Expected Results

The project will produce membranes formed using S-layer proteins, which are able to assemble to form highly ordered structures of defined pore-size. The term S-layer reflects the fact that they are constituents of the surface layer of the cell envelope commonly found in bacteria. Self-assembly is applied to processes in which a disordered system of pre-existing components forms an organized structure or pattern as a consequence of specific, local interactions among the components themselves, without external direction.

The research will also result in the production of recombinant silicateins or silicatein fusion proteins. These proteins, which are found in sponges, capture silicate and build silica-based nanostructures. The term ‘sol-gel’ encapsulation covers processes that start from a chemical solution (or sol) that acts as the precursor for an integrated network (or gel). Using these techniques the hydrated silica glass layer formed by silicatein will be used to encase biocatalysts (enzymes) or antibodies against small molecules as sensor components of integrated systems such as biosensors.

Website of project:


Coordinator: Werner MÜLLER,.

Organisation: University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz,


Lionix BV, Netherlands,

Nanotecmarin Gmbh, Germany

Aquamarijn Micro Filtration BV, Netherlands,

IWW Water Centre, Germany,

University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, Austria,

University Pierre and Marie Curie - Paris 6, France,

Wageningen University, Netherlands,