A new biosensor provides images of Manganese
Penn State researchers have developed a new biosensor that provides scientists with the first dynamic images of manganese, an elusive metal ion that is essential for life.
Manganese is a chemical element that is commonly found in rocks and soils. It is a hard, brittle, gray-white metal that is often used in steelmaking. Manganese is also an essential nutrient for humans and animals, playing a crucial role in the metabolism of amino acids, cholesterol, and carbohydrates.
The researchers crafted the sensor using a natural protein called lanmodulin, which has the ability to bind rare earth elements with remarkable precision. This protein was uncovered five years ago by some of the same researchers from Penn State who are involved in the presented study.
They were able to genetically reprogram the protein to favor manganese over other common transition metals like iron and copper, which defies the trends observed with most transition metal-binding molecules.
The sensor could have broad applications in biotechnology to advance the understanding of photosynthesis, host-pathogen interactions, and neurobiology. It could also be potentially applied more generally for processes such as the separation of the transition metal components (manganese, cobalt, and nickel) in lithium-ion battery recycling.