Conjugated polymer/recombinant Escherichia coli biohybrid systems for photobiocatalytic hydrogen production

Yang, Ying and Zwijnenburg, Martijn A. and Gardner, Adrian M. and Adamczyk, Sylwia and Yang, Jing and Sun, Yaqi and Jiang, Qiuyao and Cowan, Alexander J. and Sprick, Reiner Sebastian and Liu, Lu-Ning and Cooper, Andrew I. (2024) Conjugated polymer/recombinant Escherichia coli biohybrid systems for photobiocatalytic hydrogen production. ACS Nano, 18 (21). pp. 13484-13495. ISSN 1936-0851 (

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Biohybrid photocatalysts are composite materials that combine the efficient light-absorbing properties of synthetic materials with the highly evolved metabolic pathways and self-repair mechanisms of biological systems. Here, we show the potential of conjugated polymers as photosensitizers in biohybrid systems by combining a series of polymer nanoparticles with engineered Escherichia coli cells. Under simulated solar light irradiation, the biohybrid system consisting of fluorene/dibenzo [b,d]­thiophene sulfone copolymer (LP41) and recombinant E. coli (i.e., a LP41/HydA BL21 biohybrid) shows a sacrificial hydrogen evolution rate of 3.442 mmol g–1 h–1 (normalized to polymer amount). It is over 30 times higher than the polymer photocatalyst alone (0.105 mmol g–1 h–1), while no detectable hydrogen was generated from the E. coli cells alone, demonstrating the strong synergy between the polymer nanoparticles and bacterial cells. The differences in the physical interactions between synthetic materials and microorganisms, as well as redox energy level alignment, elucidate the trends in photochemical activity. Our results suggest that organic semiconductors may offer advantages, such as solution processability, low toxicity, and more tunable surface interactions with the biological components over inorganic materials.