Bio-NCs – the marriage of ultrasmall metal nanoclusters with biomolecules
Ultrasmall metal nanoclusters (NCs) have attracted increasing attention due to their fascinating physicochemical properties. Today, functional metal NCs are finding growing acceptance in biomedical applications. To achieve a better performance in biomedical applications, metal NCs can be interfaced with biomolecules, such as proteins, peptides, and DNA, to form a new class of biomolecule-NC composites (or bio-NCs in short), which typically show synergistic or novel physicochemical and physiological properties. This feature article focuses on the recent studies emerging at the interface of metal NCs and biomolecules, where the interactions could impart unique physicochemical properties to the metal NCs, as well as mutually regulate biological functions of the bio-NCs. In this article, we first provide a broad overview of key concepts and developments in the novel biomolecule-directed synthesis of metal NCs. A special focus is placed on the key roles of biomolecules in metal NC synthesis. In the second part, we describe how the encapsulated metal NCs affect the structure and function of biomolecules. Followed by that, we discuss several unique synergistic effects observed in the bio-NCs, and illustrate them with examples highlighting their potential biomedical applications. Continued interdisciplinary efforts are required to build up in-depth knowledge about the interfacial chemistry and biology of bio-NCs, which could further pave their ways toward biomedical applications.