Americium preferred: lanmodulin, a natural lanthanide-binding protein favors an actinide over lanthanides†
The separation and recycling of lanthanides is an active area of research with a growing demand that calls for more environmentally friendly lanthanide sources. Likewise, the efficient and industrial separation of lanthanides from the minor actinides (Np, Am–Fm) is one of the key questions for closing the nuclear fuel cycle; reducing costs and increasing safety. With the advent of the field of lanthanide-dependent bacterial metabolism, bio-inspired applications are in reach. Here, we utilize the natural lanthanide chelator lanmodulin and the luminescent probes Eu3+ and Cm3+ to investigate the inter-metal competition behavior of all lanthanides (except Pm) and the major actinide plutonium as well as three minor actinides neptunium, americium and curium to lanmodulin. Using time-resolved laser-induced fluorescence spectroscopy we show that lanmodulin has the highest relative binding affinity to Nd3+ and Eu3+ among the lanthanide series. When equimolar mixtures of Cm3+ and Am3+ are added to lanmodulin, lanmodulin preferentially binds to Am3+ over Cm3+ whilst Nd3+ and Cm3+ bind with similar relative affinity. The results presented show that a natural lanthanide-binding protein can bind a major and various minor actinides with high relative affinity, paving the way to bio-inspired separation applications. In addition, an easy and versatile method was developed, using the fluorescence properties of only two elements, Eu and Cm, for inter-metal competition studies regarding lanthanides and selected actinides and their binding to biological molecules.