Site-Specific Protein Covalent Attachment to Nanotubes and Its Electronic Impact on Single Molecule Function

Functional integration of proteins with carbon-based nanomaterials such as nanotubes holds great promise in emerging electronic and optoelectronic applications. Control over protein attachment poses a major challenge for consistent and useful device fabrication, especially when utilizing single/few molecule properties. Here, we exploit genetically encoded phenyl azide photochemistry to define the direct covalent attachment of three different proteins, including the fluorescent protein GFP, to carbon nanotube side walls. Single molecule fluorescence revealed that on attachment to SWCNTs GFP’s fluorescence changed in terms of intensity and improved resistance to photobleaching; essentially GFP is fluorescent for much longer on attachment. The site of attachment proved important in terms of electronic impact on GFP function, with the attachment site furthest from the functional center having the larger effect on fluorescence. Our approach provides a versatile and general method for generating intimate protein-CNT hybrid bioconjugates. It can be potentially applied easily to any protein of choice; attachment position and thus interface characteristics with the CNT can easily be changed by simply placing the phenyl azide chemistry at different residues by gene mutagenesis. Thus, our approach will allow consistent construction and modulate functional coupling through changing the protein attachment position.