Stürzenbaum, S.R. et al. Nat. Nanotechnol. 8, 57–60 (2013).

One of the more creative and interesting ways to make designer molecules and materials is via living organisms in place of traditional test tubes in the chemistry laboratory. Bacteria and yeast have been previously manipulated to biosynthesize semiconductor quantum dots (QDs), which are widely used for biological imaging applications. Stürzenbaum et al. now have conscripted the earthworm Lumbricus rubellus to make QDs. Earthworms have an intrinsic metal detoxification system that can be harnessed to make QDs: normal worms exposed to CdCl2 and Na2TeO3 in soil for 11 days produced CdTe QDs in their guts. These earthworm-produced QDs had luminescent characteristics similar to those of synthetic QDs, were water soluble and could be used for live-cell imaging applications.