Smart Soaps

16 January 2018

Our research group just published a new article on advanced soaps in Materials Chemistry Frontiers, 2018, ASAP article, DOI: 10.1039/c7qm00556c. The study was funded by EPSRC and Unilever. We designed novel soap-hydrogel bead composites which can release actives when pressed.  The reduced cost of the smaller amount of soap base required for these materials combined with the possibility to encapsulate actives in the hydrogel beads content and the control of their release would make these composites appealing in personal care products. We envisage that these ‘‘smart’’ soap–hydrogel beads composites could also find application for more sustainable solution within the hotel industry, where millions of partially used soap bars are discarded on a daily basis.

Smart soaps

Read more on the journal web-site.

Capillary suspensions of CaCO3 particles in a polar liquid media

14 December 2017

We have just landed another paper on capillary suspensions of calcium carbonate particles in polar media (water or glycerol) by using in-situ particle hydrophobization through the secondary oil phase (see Dunstan et al., Langmuir, 34 (2018) 442−452.).

capillary suspensions in water

Capillary suspensions formulated by this method have very different rheology and structuring compared with the ones with uniformly pre-hydrophobized particles. We studied the effects of the particle size and concentration on the viscosity of the capillary suspensions obtained this way. We also determined the minimal particle and secondary liquid phase concentration which yield capillary suspensions for different particle sizes. We did this for both water-based and glycerol based capillary suspensions and three different oils as secondary liquid phase and discussed the results in terms of the particle contact angle and the o/w  tension. Read more on the journal web-site.

Thermally responsive capillary suspensions

6 December 2017

We have just published a land mark article on thermally responsive capillary suspensions (see Das et al., ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, 2017, ASAP article, DOI: 10.1021/acsami.7b11358). Our idea is based on using oil-based suspensions of solid particles with a secondary liquid phase of a solution of a hydrogel-forming polymer.  The gelling behavior of the hydrogel-forming polymer in the aqueous phase bridging the solid particles controls the rheology of the whole capillary suspension. We demonstrate capillary suspensions with completely opposite responses to temperature based on agar and methyl cellulose.

Thermally Responsive Capillary Suspensions2

Read more on our web-site.

Congratulations to Ben Thompson for successfully passing his PhD viva

1 December 2017

Congratulations to Ben Thompson who successfully passed his PhD viva on 1 December 2017 with recommendations for only minor corrections.

What a difference 2 hours can make! We will leave it to you to guess which photo of him was taken before and which one after the PhD viva.

Ben has been a member of Prof Paunov’s research group for more than 4 years. His PhD thesis was entitled “HIERARCHICALLY STRUCTURED COMPOSITES AND POROUS MATERIALS”. Ben was jointly supervised by Prof Paunov and Dr Horozov.

During his PhD studies, Ben developed novel ultra melt-resistant hydrogels and showed that they can have a variety of applications for fabrication of innovative hierarchically composite materials. He also worked on hydrogel templating and viscous trapping techniques for making similar hierarchically porous materials and demonstrated the  applications of these technologies in foods, home and personal care products, as well as some building materials. Ben’s PhD was funded by the an Industrial CASE award from EPSRC and Unilever R&D Vlaardingen.

Dr Benjamin Thompson will soon be moving to the University of Maryland to do a post-doc in the Dept. of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering under the supervision of Prof. Srinivasa Raghavan. We wish him all the best in his future career!

High throughput method for fabrication of tissue spheroids

23 October 2017

We have just published a simple and generic technique for high throughput generation of tissue spheroids (see Materials Horizons, 4 (2017) 1196-1200). Our idea is based on encapsulation of dispersed adherent cells in a water-in-water emulsion stabilised by protein particles. Emulsion is formed from a cell suspension in an aqueous solution of dextran (DEX), which is dispersed in an aqueous solution of polyethylene oxide (PEO) containing protein particles. The cells are trapped in the DEX drops of a stable DEX/PEO emulsion which they prefer compared with the continuous PEO phase.  Further adding of more concentrated PEO phase shrinks the DEX drops and compresses the adherent cells into tissue spheroids which are isolated by breaking the emulsion by dilution with a culture media. We envisage the application of this cheap and scalable technique for rapid preparation of similarly sized spheroids of adherent cells for bioinks for 3D organ bioprinting applications and potentially for tumour models.

Cell spheroids scheme

Read the paper on the web-site of the RSC journal Materials Horizons.

Paul Weldrick joins Paunov Research Group as a PhD student

5 October 2017

Paul Weldrick
Paul Weldrick

We welcome our new group member Paul Weldrick who joined Paunov Research Group at the University of Hull in October 2017.  Paul has received a Biology degree in 2017  from the  University of Hull.

Paul Weldrick PhD project involves “Nanocarrier-mediated delivery of antimicrobials to chronic wounds” .

This PhD  project is a part of  a cluster of 7 fully-funded University of Hull studentships: “Advanced Wound Care: From Novel Therapies to Clinical Trials”.  Paul will be co-supervised by Prof Paunov (Chemistry) with his main supervisor being Dr Matthew Hardman (Life Sciences).


Benjamin Filby joins Paunov Research Group for a PhD study

27 September 2017

Ben Filby
Benjamin Filby

Warm welcome to our new PhD student Ben Filby who joined Paunov Research Group at the University of Hull in September 2017.  Ben received his MChem degree in Chemistry in 2017  from the Department of Chemistry of the University of Hull.

Ben Filby’s PhD project involves “Monitoring & manipulating wound microbiota via cell shape recognition“.

His PhD  project is a part of  a cluster of 7 fully-funded University of Hull studentships: “Advanced Wound Care: From Novel Therapies to Clinical Trials”.  Ben will be supervised by Prof Paunov (Chemistry) with co-supervisors, Prof Pamme (Chemistry) and Dr Hardman (Biology).

New way to enhance the antimicrobial action of berberine

26 September 2017

We have just published a new paper in J. Materials Chemistry B where we report a novel surface functionalised nanocarrier for berberine by using polyacrylic acid based nanogel particles (Carbopol Aqua SF1) coated with a cationic polyelectrolyte (PDAC) which shows a strong boost in the berberine antimicrobial action. The latter was studied on C. reinhardtii microalgae and E. coli for the berberine-loaded nanogel (BLC) coated with a cationic polyelectrolyte (PDAC-coated BLC).

Berberine nanocarriers 1

We demonstrated that the cationic coating of the nanogel strongly increased the antimicrobial action of berberine against both C. reinhardtii and E. coli even for very short incubation times. The increase in the antimicrobial activity was attributed to the favourable electrostatic adhesion between the cationic PDAC-coated BLC and the anionic cell membranes allowing the accumulation of BLC particles on the cell walls and the local release of concentrated berberine causing the cell death. This nanotechnology-inspired approach can be potentially applied to boost the antimicrobial action for a range of low-molecular weight antimicrobial and antialgal agents by using cationic surface-functionalised nanogel carriers. A similar strategy could also find applications for enhancing the action of topical antibiotics and antifungal agents and may be used to bypass antimicrobial resistance.

Read the paper on the web-site of the RSC journal J. Mater. Chem B.

We created ultra melt-resistant hydrogels from food grade carbohydrates

25 September 2017

Paunov’s Research Group has just published a paper in RSC Advances where we report  a binary hydrogel system made from two food grade biopolymers, agar and methylcellulose (Agar-MC) which does not require addition of salt for gelation to occur and has very unusual rheological and thermal properties. We found that the storage modulus of the Agar-MC hydrogel far exceeds those of hydrogels from the individual components.  Above the melting point of agar, the storage modulus of Agar-MC hydrogel decreases but is still an elastic hydrogel with mechanical properties dominated by the MC gelation. By varying the mixing ratio of the two polymers, agar and MC, it was possible to engineer a food grade hydrogel of controlled mechanical properties and thermal response.  The produced highly thermally stable hydrogel shows melt resistance which may find application in high temperature food processing and materials templating.

Agar-MC gels

Read more on this topic on our web-site.

Paunov’s CRUK Pioneer project team published a key review: Cancer bioimprinting and cell shape recognition for diagnosis and targeted treatment

29 June 2017

Prof Paunov’s CRUK Pioneer Award project team has just published a key review article in the RSC journal Chemical Society Reviews.  Congrats to Jevan Medlock, Dr Anupam Das, Dr Leigh Madden and Dr David Allsup who contributed to this work.

Jevan Medlock1Anupam Das1Leigh Madden photoDavid AllsupProf Paunov photo

Jevan Medlock, Anupam A.K. Das, Leigh A. Madden, David J. Allsup and Vesselin N. Paunov, Cancer bioimprinting and cell shape recognition for diagnosis and targeted treatment. Chemical Society Reviews, 2017, 46, 5110-5127.

The review focuses on the possible applications of bioimprinting with particular regards to cancer understanding, diagnosis and therapy. Surface imprinting allows the capture of increasingly complex motifs from polypeptides to single cell organisms and mammalian cells. Highly specific cell shape recognition can also be achieved by cell interaction with imprints that can be made into polymer matrices to mimic biological systems at a molecular level. Bioimprinting has also been used to achieve nanometre-scale resolution imaging of cancer cells. Studies of bioimprint-based drug delivery on cancer cells have been recently trialed in vitro and show that this approach can potentially improve existing chemotherapeutic approaches.  Cell imprints, incorporated into biosensors can allow the limits of detection to be improved or negate the need for extensive patient sample processing. Similar cell imprinting platforms can be used for nanoscale imaging of cancer morphology, as well as to investigate topographical signalling of cancer cells in vitro.

Chemical Society Reviews is the leading journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry for reviews and it currently has an impact factor of 38.618. Read the article on the Chem Soc Rev journal web-site.

Lucas Thuillier joined our research group as a placement student from ESCOM 

22 May 2017

We welcome Lucas Thuillier, a third year undergraduate from ESCOM (France), who joined our research group at the School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences (Chemistry) at the University of Hull for a summer research placement. École Supérieure de Chimie Organique et Minérale (ESCOM) is a French grande école in Compiègne, France. Lucas arrived at  Hull at the end of May 2017 to undertake 4 months research project in our group as a part of his ESCOM Masters degree course. He will be exploring the properties of emulsions stabilized by cyclodextrins.

Lucas Thuillier
Lucas Thuillier

Key review: Colloid particle formulations for antimicrobial applications

12 May 2017

Prof Paunov’s research group has just published a key review article in the Elsevier journal Advances in Colloid and Interface Science. This review focuses on various inorganic, organic and hybrid nanoparticles, and discussed their methods of preparation, mechanisms of antimicrobial action and applications. Main highlights are:

  • We follow nanotechnology approaches that can potentially bypass antimicrobial resistance
  • Review of nanoparticles of universal antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral action
  • Mechanisms by which nanoparticles attack microbial cells or inhibit their growth
  • Recent developments for targeted delivery of nanoparticle antimicrobials
  • Using colloid antibodies for microbial cell shape and surface recognition
  • Environmentally benign nanoparticles as a safer-by-design green antimicrobial nanomaterials.

Read the article on the ACIS journal web-site.

Fanny Schnetz joined our research group as a placement student from ENSCR

24 April 2017

Fanny Schnetz joined our research group as a placement student from Ecole Nationale Superieure de Chimie de Rennes (E.N.S.C.R.), a leading Chemical Engineering School in Rennes, France.

Fanny Schnetz

Fanny arrived at the University of Hull at the end of April 2017 to undertake 4 months research project in our interdisciplinary group as a part of her Masters degree in Chemistry and Engineering. She will be working on a new type of nanocarriers  for antimicrobial applications.

Professor Paunov poster gets a prestigious award at the MRS Spring Meeting at Phoenix, Arizona

18 April 2017

Our poster presentation entitled “Cyclodextrin Stabilised Emulsions, Cyclodextrinosomes and Cyborg Cells” (authors: Baghali Mathapa and Vesselin Paunov) was given a recognition award as a best poster at the Symposium SM8 – Advanced Polymers at the Materials Research Society Spring Meeting in Phoenix, AZ, 17-21 April 2017.

MRS meetings are highly interdisciplinary and consist of more than 60 parallel symposia with 3 joint poster sessions. MRS Spring meeting this year was attended by over 10,000 participants.

S17_Friday_SM8 Poster WinnerMRS poster award 2017

Three visiting students from ESCOM join our reserach group for a summer placement

1 June 2016

We welcome to our research group three visiting students from ESCOM (Chemical Engineering School in Compiegne, France).

Deborah Mimoza and Laura June 2016

Déborah Legrand, Mimôzà Ralaivoay and Laura Floury (from left to right) arrived at the University of Hull at the end of May 2016 to undertake short research projects in our group as a part of their Masters degree in Chemistry. The trio will join the current group members in pioneering research which will help them develop their scientific skills and gain vital experience in multi-disciplinary backgrounds.

Déborah will be working on a new method for preparation of cell spheroids with applications in bioprinting and tissue engineering. Mimôzà will work on a project involving cell imprinting and recognition technology. Laura will be involved in a project developing a new generation of optical brighteners.

Their internships will end in September 2016, when the students will produce a detailed report upon successful completion of their projects. This placement visit is expected to be the first of many in a fruitful relationship between the Paunov Research Group at the University of Hull and ESCOM (Compiegne, France).

Congratulations to Emmanuel Ubuo for successfully defending his PhD thesis

23 May 2016

Emmanuel - after Viva 2

Congratulations to Emmanuel Ubuo who successfully passed his PhD viva  on 23 May 2016 with recommendation for only minor corrections.

Emmanuel has been a member of Prof Paunov’s  and Dr Horozov’s research groups for more than 3 years. His PhD thesis is entitled “WETTING PROPERTIES OF PROTECTIVE COATINGS BASED ON STRUCTURED SURFACES”. He was jointly supervised by Prof Paunov and Dr Horozov.

Emmanuel developed important insights about wetting of structured and partially impregnated porous surfaces and has been working on the self-healing coatings for antibiofouling and corrosion inhibition applications.

Emmanuel’s PhD was funded by the Nigerian Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and Akwa Ibom State University, Nigeria where Emmanuel will continue his work as a Lecturer.

Professor Paunov and his team granted the prestigious Pioneer Award from Cancer Research UK

14 April 2016


Professor Vesselin Paunov and Dr Leigh Madden at the Faculty of Science and Engineering of the University of Hull and Dr David Allsup, a clinical hematologist consultant from the Queens Oncology Centre at Castle Hill Hospital, were recently granted the prestigious Pioneer Award from Cancer Research UK to work on a novel in-vitro technology for removal of malignant blood cancer cells from blood samples of acute myeloma leukaemia (AML) patients based on bioimprinting and cell shape recognition.

Bioimprints are physical copies of the cell surface produced by casting the myeloblast cells with polymers and other materials. The cell shape recognition is based on the increased area of contact of target myeloblast cells with their negative replica on the bioimprinted surface.

This cell shape recognition technology would potentially allow Paunov’s team to develop a device which can separate in-vitro the malignant myeloblasts from the normal white blood cells. Such cell shape sorter could deplete further the blood of AML patients from myeloblasts after chemotherapy which may potentially improve their prognosis and reduce AML relapses based on the counts of minimal residual disease.

Our Hull team was one of the five awarded the Pioneer Award at this round along with other teams from the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester and the Institute of Cancer Research – London.

Read more about this on the Cancer Research UK science blog.

Professor Paunov’s research mentioned in a highlight by the editor of Journal of Materials Chemistry B

3 April 2016

Vesselin PaunovProfessor Paunov was recently praised in a highlight by the Associate Editor of Journal of Materials Chemistry B, Prof Marc in het Panhuis, for the inspiration that he got from him more than 10 years ago which opened Marc’s research to novel biomaterials produced by microorganisms. Back in 2003 Professor Paunov was working with gellan gum and developed the gel trapping technique for measuring contact angles of colloid particles at a liquid surface as well as colloidosomes with gelled cores and Janus particles.

Gellan gum is a polysaccharide produced by a bacterium and it can form hydrogels at very low concentrations. A brief collaboration between Marc and Vesko at the University of Hull at this time led to a novel method for dispersing carbon nanotubes in aqueous solutions as it turned out that gellan also has stabilizing properties – you can read more about this research here.

Marc has been fascinated by the properties of gellan and has been using it in his research group at the University of Wollongong, Australia, inventing different ways to formulate innovative 3D printable biomaterials and soft robotics based on hydrogels.

Read the highlight.

Congratulations to Mohammed Al-Awady for successfully passing his PhD viva

16 February 2016

Dr Mohammed Al-Awady
Mohammed Al-Awady sharing the good news with Prof Paunov

We are all happy for Mohammed Al-Awady who successfully defended his PhD thesis and passed his viva with recommendation for only minor corrections.

Mohammed has been a member of Prof Paunov’s research group for more than 4 years and his PhD thesis was entitled “Nanoparticles Mediated Toxicity and Antimicrobial Actions”. He was jointly supervised by Prof Paunov and Prof Greenway.

He made a valuable contribution towards better understanding of the role of the particle size and surface charge on the nanotoxicity of titania nanoparticles.

Mohammed Al-Awady will continue his work as a Lecturer at the University of Babylon.

Ahmed Al-Mamoori joins Paunov Research Group for a PhD study

28 September 2015

Ahmed2Warm welcome to our new PhD student Ahmed Al-Mamoori who joined Paunov Research Group at the University of Hull in September 2015. Ahmed’s PhD project involves using synthetic colloids as antimicrobial agents.

Ahmed Al-Mamoori received his BSc in Chemistry in 2005 and MSc in Photochemistry in 2012, both from the Department of Chemistry of the University of Babylon, Iraq under the supervision of Prof. Falah H. Hussein. He also specialized at the Department of Photocatalysis and Nanotechnology, Institute of Technical Chemistry, University of Hannover, Germany with Prof. Bahnemann in 2011. Since 2012 he joined the University of Babylon as an Assistant Lecturer.

Hamza Al-Shehri successfully defends his PhD thesis

21 September 2015

Hamza Al-ShehriCongratulations to Hamza Al-Shehri, who passed his PhD viva. Hamza was a member of Prof Paunov research group since 2011. His PhD thesis is entitled “Wettability of Anisotropic and Porous Particles Adsorbed at Fluid Interfaces”.

Hamza Al-Shehri

Baghali Mathapa poster wins the Best Poster Prize at ECIS 2015

11 September 2015

Congratulations to our alumni group member Dr Baghali Mathapa, whose poster entitled “Self-assembly of cyclodextrins at fluid interfaces: Surfactant-free emulsions, cyclodextrinosomes and cyclodextrin-functionalised living cells” won the “Best Poster” award at the European Colloid and Interface Society annual meeting Bordeaux, 6-11 September 2015.

ECIS 2015 is a major meeting of the colloid scientist from Europe and around the world more than 700 participants. Dr Mathapa is currently working as a lecturer at Botswana Agricultural College after finishing his PhD in the research group of Prof. Paunov. Baghali’s poster  was based on results published in his PhD thesis.

Baghali Mathapa

Dr Baghali Mathapa

Baghali poster ECIS 2015

Scientists Go Green with Environmentally Friendly Antimicrobial Nanoparticles

13 July 2015

Researchers have engineered nanoscale antimicrobial particles using green chemistry principles in their design, producing an environmentally benign ‘nanobullet’ which attacks dangerous bacteria and neutralizes them.

An Environmentally Benign Antimicrobial Nanoparticle Based on a Silver-Infused Lignin Core – published in Nature Nanotechnology (13 July 2015).

Vesselin Paunov, a Professor of Physical Chemistry and Advanced Materials at the University of Hull, was one of the researchers collaborating on this project along with international teams of Prof Velev at North Carolina State University, staff from the US Environmental Protection Agency and UCL.


“Silver nanoparticles have great antibacterial properties, but after their use they can persist in the environment.” explains Prof Paunov. “However, it is not necessary for the entire nanoparticles to be made of silver. We produced nanoparticles from lignin (an essential component in plants) which we infused with silver ions and coated with a layer of polymer which adheres well to bacteria to form a biodegradable and green alternative to silver metal nanoparticles.”

“When the silver-infused lignin nanoparticles adhere to bacterial cells, the silver ions kill them very efficiently, leaving the depleted lignin cores to biodegrade as lignin from plant cells, which cuts the pollution risk to the environment. Our green nanotechnology, which is benign by design, and could lead to enhanced efficiency of antimicrobial products used in agriculture, home and personal care.”

The researchers used these complex nanoparticles to attack E.coli which causes food poisoning, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common disease causing bacterium and Ralstonia, a genus of bacteria containing soil-borne pathogen species. They also targeted Staphylococcus epidermis, a bacterium that can cause harmful biofilms on plastics, like catheters, in the human body. The silver-infused lignin nanoparticles were effective against all of the bacteria.

Prof Paunov invited to give Keynote Lecture at the ECIS 2015

6 July 2015

Professor Paunov was invited to present a Keynote Lecture at the European Colloid Society (ECIS) Annual Conference in Bordeaux, 6-11 September 2015. ECIS is a major meeting of the colloid scientist from Europe and around the world more than 700 participants. His talk will be on Nanotoxicity of Polyelectrolyte coated Titania Nanoparticles.

Synthetic Colloids with Antimicrobial Action

1 June 2014

Prof VesseliMicrobiologist June 2014n Paunov and Dr Anupam Das published an invited features article in the online journal Microbiologist (issue June 2014) of the Society of Applied Microbiology about unconventional antimicrobial agents based on colloid particles.

Read the article

Syntheic colloids with antimictobial action

Cell Surface Engineering book

24 July 2014

Prof Vesselin Paunov, Dr Rawil Fakhrullin and Dr Anupam Das contributed a Chapter on “Artificial multicellular assemblies from cells interfaced with polymers and nanomaterials” in the recently published RSC book Cell Surface Engineering, edited by Prof. Yuri Lvov, Prof. Insung Choi and Dr Fakhrullin.

Cell surface engineering book
In this chapter we review the recent developments in fabrication of multicellular assemblies from cells modified with polymers and nanomaterials. We focus on the specific properties of such “cyborg” cells which allow a variety of new methods to be used for their assembly into multicellular structures with functions rather different from those of the original cells. We discuss template and external field mediated assembly of modified cells as well as various techniques for preparation of tissue spheroids and polyelectrolyte mediated cell assemblies. Numerous applications of such cell assemblies in tissue engineering, bioprinting, biosensing and bioelectronics are outlined and commented throughout the chapter.

Take a look at the contents page at the RSC web-site.

Fighting microbes without antibiotics

29 March 2013

The team of scientists at the University of Hull led by Professor Paunov have recently developed a new family of selective antimicrobial agents which could hold the key to fighting microbes without the use of traditional antibiotics. They discovered a way of custom-designing microparticles to recognise the shape of specific microbes and ‘de-activate’ them [1-2].

“This idea has many applications, as it allows killing microbes selectively without antibiotics. Since many superbugs have developed resistance to the available antibiotics, this technology may help us to build the next lines of defence from resistant microbial infections.” says Professor Paunov.

Professor Paunov’s team have created innovative antimicrobial agents by using the microbes as templates. First, they coated the target microbes with very tiny gold particles and thin shells of silica, the same material as ordinary sand.

They broke those shells in large fragments which “remember” the shape of the templated microbial cells, so when they encounter cells that match their shape they bind to them selectively. The researchers named these particles “colloid antibodies” as they recognise whole cells.

When the researchers incubated colloid antibodies with a mixture of different microbes, they bind only to the original cells and bring gold particles directly on their surface.

Since gold nanoparticles absorb light strongly, shining a laser on the mixture makes them heat up and kill the cells in contact. The cells that do not “fit” into the shape imprinted in the colloid antibodies remain unaffected.

photothermal colloid antibody

Their work was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and highlighted by the American Chemical Society and BBSRC Business magazine.

  1. Borovicka, J., Stoyanov, S.D., Paunov, V.N., Shape recognition of microbial cells by colloidal cell imprints, Nanoscale, 57 (2013) 8560 – 8568.
  2. Borovicka, J., Metheringham, J., Madden, L.A., Walton C.D., Stoyanov, S.D., Paunov, V.N., “Photothermal colloid antibodies for shape-selective recognition and killing of microorganisms.”, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 135 (2013), 5282-5285. [Highlighted by ACS Press]

Scientists engineer cyborg cells in the fight against pathogens, poisons and pollutants

16 April 2012

We have all watched sci-fi movies with robots and cyborgs that are stronger than humans. Some of us have played computer games with special goggles that replace our environment with virtual reality. Now imagine if we can make cyborgs out of single cells. It sounds like something from the distant future but actually it is already a reality which started more than five years ago in a research lab at the University of Hull.

cyborg cell

Professor Vesselin Paunov, who leads a team of biomaterials experts in the Department of Chemistry, succeeded in turning ordinary cells like baker’s yeast into ‘cyborg cells’. The researchers managed to ‘wrap’ the cells with special polymers and very tiny particles while keeping them alive [1-4].

“The cells interact with their environment through their cell membrane,” explains Professor Paunov.

“If we furnish the cells with an artificial interface by coating them with certain particles or polymers, they can perform completely new roles. For the cells, this artificial interface looks like putting on virtual reality goggles. We can use these cells to build useful devices, such as detecting pollution and even fighting microbes.”

  1. Fakhrullin, R.F., Garcia-Alonso, J., Paunov, V.N., “A Direct technique for preparation of magnetically functionalized living yeast cells”, Soft Matter, 6 (2010) 391-397.
  2. Garcia-Alonso, J, Fakhrullin, R. F., Paunov, V.N., “Rapid and direct magnetization of GFP-reporter yeast for micro-screening systems”, Biosensors and Bioelectronics, 25 (2010) 1816-1819.
  3. Zhang, D., Fakhrullin, R.F., Özmen, M., Wang, H., Wang, J., Paunov, V.N., Li, G., Huang, W.E., “Functionalization of whole-cell bacterial reporters with magnetic nanoparticles”, Microbial Biotechnology, 4 (2011) 89-97.
  4. Fakhrullin, R. F., Zamaleeva, A.I., Minullina, Renata T., Paunov, V.N.,”Cyborg cells: functionalisation of living cells with polymers and nanomaterials”, Chemical Society Reviews, 41 (2012) 4189-4206.

Detecting toxins and pollutants with magnetic yeast

6 October 2010

A team of scientists from the University of Hull, including Prof Paunov and Prof Greenway have used magnetic nanoparticles to make magnetic yeast, whose cells can be moved around and extracted from solution with a strong magnet.

They magnetised a special strain of yeast cells, then trapped them in a device called a ‘lab-on-a-chip’ – a device which shrinks the pipettes, test tubes and analysis instruments of a modern chemistry lab onto a microchip-sized wafer of plastic. The tiny lab-on-a-chip has many ingrained grooved channels, and the magnetic cells are held in these channels with a magnet [1].

Using the lab-on-a-chip device, different liquid samples can be quickly screened for toxicity by flowing them over the cells in the channels. The yeast cells look fluorescent under a microscope when they are exposed to genotoxins as they activate their DNA-repair gene which triggers another gene that produces green fluorescent protein.

“We also collaborated with colleagues at the University of Sheffield to detect environmental pollution using bacterial cyborg cells. Mixing them with polluted soil gets them exposed to the pollutants trapped in the pores of the soil particles. When collected back with a magnet and examined, the way the cells respond tells us how concentrated the pollutant is.”

  1. García-Alonso, J. Fakhrullin, R.F., Greenway, G.M., Haswell, S.J., Hardege, J.D., Pamme, N., Shen, Z., Paunov, V.N., “Toxicity screening tool utilizing magnetic yeast and gradient mixing”, Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 400 (2011) 1009-1013.

Microscreening with cells 1Microscreening with cells 2