Carbon nanotube uptake in cyanobacteria for near-infrared imaging and enhanced bioelectricity generation in living photovoltaics

The distinctive properties of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) have inspired the development of many novel applications in the field of cell nanobiotechnology. However, studies thus far have not explored the effect of SWCNT functionalization on transport across the cell walls of prokaryotes. We explore the uptake of SWCNTs in Gram-negative cyanobacteria and demonstrate a passive length-dependent and selective internalization of SWCNTs decorated with positively charged biomolecules. We show that lysozyme-coated SWCNTs spontaneously penetrate the cell walls of a unicellular strain and a multicellular strain. A custom-built spinning-disc confocal microscope was used to image the distinct near-infrared SWCNT fluorescence within the autofluorescent cells, revealing a highly inhomogeneous distribution of SWCNTs. Real-time near-infrared monitoring of cell growth and division reveal that the SWCNTs are inherited by daughter cells. Moreover, these nanobionic living cells retained photosynthetic activity and showed an improved photo-exoelectrogenicity when incorporated into bioelectrochemical devices.