A de novo protein catalyzes the synthesis of semiconductor quantum dots

Leah C. Spangler, Yueyu Yao, Guangming Cheng, Nan Yao, Sarangan L. Chari, Gregory D. Scholes, Michael H. Hecht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


De novo proteins constructed from novel amino acid sequences are distinct from proteins that evolved in nature. Construct K (ConK) is a binary-patterned de novo designed protein that rescues Escherichia coli from otherwise toxic concentrations of copper. ConK was recently found to bind the cofactor PLP (pyridoxal phosphate, the active form of vitamin B6). Here, we show that ConK catalyzes the desulfurization of cysteine to H2S, which can be used to synthesize CdS nanocrystals in solution. The CdS nanocrystals are approximately 3 nm, as measured by transmission electron microscope, with optical properties similar to those seen in chemically synthesized quantum dots. The CdS nanocrystals synthesized using ConK have slower growth rates and a different growth mechanism than those synthesized using natural biomineralization pathways. The slower growth rate yields CdS nanocrystals with two desirable properties not observed during biomineralization using natural proteins. First, CdS nanocrystals are predominantly of the zinc blende crystal phase; this is in stark contrast to natural biomineralization routes that produce a mixture of zinc blende and wurtzite phase CdS. Second, in contrast to the growth and eventual precipitation observed in natural biomineralization systems, the CdS nanocrystals produced by ConK stabilize at a final size. Future optimization of CdS nanocrystal growth using ConK—or other de novo proteins—may help to overcome the limits on nanocrystal quality typically observed from natural biomineralization by enabling the synthesis of more stable, high-quality quantum dots at room temperature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2204050119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 20 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • binary patterning
  • biomineralization
  • de novo
  • protein design
  • quantum dots


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