We demonstrate the use of silk based proteins to control the particle/crystallite size during GeO2 formation, using a bio-mimetic approach at circumneutral pH and ambient temperature. Multicrystalline GeO2 was prepared from germanium tetraethoxide (TEOG) in the presence of different silk-based proteins: Bombyx mori silk (native silk) and two chimeric proteins prepared by linking a germania binding peptide (Ge28: HATGTHGLSLSH) with Bombyx mori silk via chemical coupling at different peptide loadings (silk-Ge28 10% and silk-Ge28 50%). The mineralisation activity of the silk-based proteins was compared with that of peptide Ge28 as a control system. GeO2 mineralisation was investigated in water and in citric acid/bis-tris propane buffer at pH 6. Morphology, particle size, crystallinity, water and organic content of the materials obtained were analysed to study the effect of added biomolecules and mineralisation environment on material properties. In the presence of silk additives well-defined cube-shape hybrid materials composed of hexagonal germania and up to ca. 5 wt% organic content were obtained. The cubic particles ranged from 0.4 to 1.4 μm in size and were composed of crystalline domains in the range 35-106 nm depending on the additive used and synthesis conditions. The organic material incorporated in the mineral did not appear to affect the unit cell dimensions. The silk and chimeric proteins in water promote material formation and crystal growth, possibly via an effective ion-channelling mechanism, however further studies are needed to assert to what extent the presence of the silk impacts on nucleation and growth stages. The germania binding peptide alone did not have any significant effect on reaction rate, yield or the material's properties compared to the blank. Interestingly, the peptide content in the silk chimeras tested did not affect mineralisation. The presence of buffer inhibited mineral condensation rate and yield. The use of silk-based biomolecules allows control of crystallite/particle size of hybrid materials opening up opportunities for bio-inspired approaches to be applied for the synthesis of functional germania based devices and materials.
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