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Bacteria-instructed synthesis of polymers for self-selective microbial binding and labelling

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 22 January 2016

This article has been updated


The detection and inactivation of pathogenic strains of bacteria continues to be an important therapeutic goal. Hence, there is a need for materials that can bind selectively to specific microorganisms for diagnostic or anti-infective applications, but that can be formed from simple and inexpensive building blocks. Here, we exploit bacterial redox systems to induce a copper-mediated radical polymerization of synthetic monomers at cell surfaces, generating polymers in situ that bind strongly to the microorganisms that produced them. This ‘bacteria-instructed synthesis’ can be carried out with a variety of microbial strains, and we show that the polymers produced are self-selective binding agents for the ‘instructing’ cell types. We further expand on the bacterial redox chemistries to ‘click’ fluorescent reporters onto polymers directly at the surfaces of a range of clinical isolate strains, allowing rapid, facile and simultaneous binding and visualization of pathogens.

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Figure 1: A schematic of the bacteria-instructed synthesis process.
Figure 2: The generation of a reductive environment during bacteria-instructed synthesis and evaluation of the cell-binding properties of the resultant polymers.
Figure 3: The demonstration of self-selective microbial binding by bacteria-instructed polymers.
Figure 4: Synthesis in the presence of pathogen analogue bacterial strains and in situ labelling of clinical isolates.

Change history

  • 07 January 2016

    In the version of this Article originally published, the fluorescence micrograph in Fig. 3b, the second panel on the lower row erroneously showed a micrograph that corresponded to Escherichia coli instead of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This error has been corrected in the online versions of the Article.


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We thank GlaxoSmithKline, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for funding (Grants BB/H53052X/1, EP/H005625/1, EP/G042462/1), M. Camara, S. Heeb and K. Righetti for providing the pyocyanin-negative PAO1 strain and C-Y. Chang for the E. coli 536 GFP strain. We also thank J.P. Magnusson for many helpful discussions.

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Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed to design of the experiments. E.P.M., C.A., G.M. and F.F-T. designed the polymer syntheses, K.W., D.C. and D.B. designed the microbiology assays. E.P.M., C.S. and S.G.S. carried out the experiments; C.A., E.P.M., G.M., F.F-T. and K.W. analysed the data and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Giuseppe Mantovani, Klaus Winzer or Cameron Alexander.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Magennis, E., Fernandez-Trillo, F., Sui, C. et al. Bacteria-instructed synthesis of polymers for self-selective microbial binding and labelling. Nature Mater 13, 748–755 (2014).

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