Cell Biochemistry and Biophysics

, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 23–39 | Cite as

Biomolecular Self-assembly and its Relevance in Silica Biomineralization

  • Christian Gröger
  • Katharina Lutz
  • Eike Brunner
Review Paper


Biomineralization, which means the formation of inorganic materials by biological processes, currently finds increasing research interest. It involves the synthesis of calcium-based minerals such as bones and teeth in vertebrates, and of shells. Silica biomineralization occurs, for example, in diatoms and silica sponges. Usually, biominerals are made up of amorphous compounds or small microcrystalline domains embedded into an amorphous matrix. Nevertheless, they exhibit very regular shapes and, as in the case of diatoms, intricate nanopatterns of amazing beauty. It is, therefore, commonly assumed that biominerals are formed under the structure-directing influence of templates. However, single molecules are by far too small to direct the formation of the observed shapes and patterns. Instead, supramolecular aggregates are shown to be involved in the formation of templating superstructures relevant in biomineralization. Specific biomolecules were identified in both diatoms and silica sponges, which elegantly combine two indispensable functions: on the one hand, the molecules are capable of inducing silica precipitation from precursor compounds. On the other hand, these molecules are capable of self-assembling into larger, structure-directing template aggregates. Such molecules are the silaffins in the case of diatoms and the silicateins in sponges. Long-chain polyamines of similar composition have meanwhile been discovered in both organisms. The present review is especially devoted to the discussion of the self-assembly behavior of these molecules. Physico-chemical studies on a model compound, poly(allylamine), are discussed in detail in order to elucidate the nature of the interactions responsible for self-assembly of long-chain polyamines and the parameters controlling this process. Numerous biomimetic silica synthesis experiments are discussed and evaluated with respect to the observations made on the aforementioned “natural” biomolecules.


Biomolecules Self-assembly Silica biomineralization Silaffins Silicateins Polyamines 



The present article is dedicated to Professor Manfred Sumper (Regensburg) on the occasion of his 65th birthday. The authors wish to thank him with this dedication for fruitful collaboration and helpful discussions. Thanks are further due to Ms Ingrid Cuno for carefully proofreading the manuscript. Financial support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (project no. Br 1278/12–1,2) is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Gröger
    • 1
  • Katharina Lutz
    • 1
  • Eike Brunner
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Biophysics and Physical BiochemistryUniversity of RegensburgRegensburgGermany

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