Graphene-Based Nucleants for Protein Crystallization

Lata Govada, Noelia Rubio, Emmanuel Saridakis, Kalpana Balaskandan, Hannah Leese, Yanmin Li, Beijia Wang, Milo S.P. Shaffer, Naomi Chayen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Protein crystallization remains a major bottleneck for the determination of high resolution structures. Nucleants can accelerate the process but should ideally be compatible with high throughput robotic screening. Polyethylene glycol grafted (PEGylated) graphenes can be stabilized in water providing dispensable, nucleant systems. Two graphitic feedstocks are exfoliated and functionalized with PEG using a non-destructive, scalable, chemical reduction method, delivering good water dispersibility (80 and 750 µg mL−1 for large and small layers, respectively). The wide utility of these nucleants has been established across five proteins and three different screens, each of 96 conditions, demonstrating greater effectiveness of the dispersed PEGylated graphenes. Smaller numbers of larger, more crystalline flakes consistently act as better protein nucleants. The delivered nucleant concentration is optimized (0.1 mg mL−1 in the condition), and the performance benchmarked against existing state of the art, molecularly imprinted polymer nucleants. Strikingly, graphene nucleants are effective even when decreasing both the nucleant and protein concentration to unusually low concentrations. The set-up to scale-up nucleant production to liter volumes can provide sufficient material for wide implementation. Together with the optimized crystallization conditions, the results are a step forward toward practical synthesis of a readily accessible “universal” nucleant.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2202596
JournalAdvanced Functional Materials
Issue number42
Early online date15 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2022


  • PEGylation
  • graphene
  • polymers
  • protein crystallization
  • protein nucleants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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