Tag Archives: University of Tennessee Knoxville

Flesh-eating fungus, ivy and other inspirations from nature

Michael Berger has featured Dr. Mingjun Zhang’s team’s fascinating work on flesh-eating fungus in a Dec. 18, 2012 Spotlight article on Nanowerk,

“Most studies on naturally occurring organic nanoparticles have focused on higher organisms,” Mingjun Zhang, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, tells Nanowerk. “Given the earth’s rich biological diversity, it is reasonable to hypothesize that naturally occurring nanoparticles, of various forms and functions, may be produced by a wide range of organisms from microbes to metazoans.”

In his research, Zhang has focused on looking at nature for inspirations for solutions to challenges in engineering and medicine, especially in small-scale, such as bioinspired nanomaterials, bioinspired energy-efficient propulsive systems, and bioinspired nanobio systems for interfacing with cellular systems.

In new work, Zhang and his research associate Dr. Yongzhong Wang have turned their focus to Arthrobotrys oligospora, a representative flesh eater with a predatory life stage in the fungal kingdom.

The researchers have published their work in Advanced Functional Materials ((early online publication behind a paywall),

Naturally Occurring Nanoparticles from Arthrobotrys oligospora as a Potential Immunostimulatory and Antitumor Agent by Yongzhong Wang, Leming Sun, Sijia Yi, Yujian Huang, Scott C. Lenaghan, and Mingjun Zhang in Advanced Functional Materials

Article first published online: 4 DEC 2012 DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201202619

Here’s the abstract,

Arthrobotrys oligospora, a representative flesh eater in the fungal kingdom, is a potential source for natural-based biomaterials due to the presence of specialized 3D adhesive traps that can capture, penetrate, and digest free-living nematodes in diverse environments. The purpose of this study is to discover novel nanoparticles that occur naturally in A. oligospora and to exploit its potential biomedical applications. A new culture method, fungal sitting drop culture method, is established in order to monitor the growth of A. oligospora in situ, and observe the nanoparticle production without interfering or contamination from the solid media. Abundant spherical nanoparticles secreted from the fungus are first revealed by scanning electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy. They have an average size of 360–370 nm, with a zeta potential of –33 mV at pH 6.0. Further analyses reveal that there is ≈28 μg of glycosaminoglycan and ≈550 μg of protein per mg of nanoparticles. Interestingly, the nanoparticles significantly induce TNF-α secretion in RAW264.7mouse macrophages, indicating a potential immunostimulatory effect. The nanoparticles themselves are also found slightly cytotoxic to mouse melanoma B16BL6 and human lung cancer A549 cells, and show a synergistic cytotoxic effect upon conjugation with doxorubicin against both cells. This study proposes a new approach for producing novel organic nanoparticles secreted from microorganisms under controlled conditions. The findings here also highlight the potential roles of the naturally occurring nanoparticles from A. oligospora as an immunostimulatory and antitumor agent for cancer immunochemotherapy.

In more generalized language (from Berger’s Spotlight article),

“It is really exciting to use a natural microbe system to produce nanoparticles for potential cancer therapy,” says Zhang. “Originally, we were trying to understand how the fungus secretes an adhesive trap that can capture, penetrate, and digest free-living nematodes in diverse environments. By doing that we almost accidentally discovered the nanoparticles produced.”

Zhang’s team investigated the fungal nanoparticles’ potential as a stimulant for the immune system, and found through an in vitro study that the nanoparticles activate secretion of an immune-system stimulant within a white blood cell line. They also investigated the nanoparticles’ potential as an antitumor agent by testing in vitro the toxicity to cells using two tumor cell lines, and discovered nanoparticles do kill cancer cells.

Berger’s article in addition to giving more details about Zhang’s current work and his work with ivy and possible applications for ivy-based nanoparticles in sunscreens also provides some discussion of naturally occurring nanoparticles as opposed to engineered (or man-made)  nanoparticles.

The University of Tennessee’s Dec. 4, 2012 press release is also a good source of information on Zhang’s latest work on flesh-eating fungus. For the indefatiguable who are interested in Zhang’s work on ivy and potential nanosunscreens, there’s also my July 22, 2010 posting.

Sunscreen and nanoparticles from ivy

I like a story about science research that starts with a question even if it does lead to another nanosunscreen posting this year (from a news item on Science Daily),

“What makes the ivy in [the] backyard cling to the fence so tightly?”

Associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Mingjun Zhang, asked himself that question one day while watching his son play in their back yard. Zhang’s answer may lead to the development of a new type of nanosunscreen, one that uses plant-based nanoparticles rather than metal-based ones.

Zhang speculated the greenery’s hidden power lay within a yellowish material secreted by the ivy for surface climbing. He placed this material onto a silicon wafer and examined it under an atomic force microscope and was surprised by what they found — lots of nanoparticles, tiny particles 1,000 times thinner than the diameter of a human hair. The properties of these tiny bits create the ability for the vine leaves to hold almost 2 million more times than its weight. It also has the ability to soak up and disperse light which is integral to sunscreens. [emphasis mine]

Michael Berger at Nanowerk has written an article (Harmless natural nanoparticles show potential to replace metal-based nanoparticles in sunscreen) discussing Dr. Zhang’s work in more depth,

Quite impressively, the team’s study indicates that ivy nanoparticles can improve the extinction of ultraviolet light at least four times better than its metal counterparts.

Zhang points out that sunscreens made with ivy nanoparticles may not need to be reapplied after swimming. “That’s because the plant’s nanoparticles are a bit more adhesive so sunscreens made with them may not wash off as easily as traditional sunscreens,” he says. “And while sunscreens made with metal-based nanoparticles give the skin a white tinge, sunscreens made with ivy nanoparticles are virtually invisible when applied to the skin.”

This certainly looks promising but they don’t seem to be anywhere near to producing sunscreens containing ivy nanoparticles.