Big hit on a small-scale for black-eyed peas
6 March 2006
Dr David Evans: 01603 450706/450000
Dr George Lomonossoff: 01603-450351/450000
Media Office: 01603 450641 (out of hours 01603-450000)
What have Black-eyed peas got to do with nanotechnology? As well as
sharing their name with a chart-topping U.S. band, Black-eyed peas (also
known as Cowpeas) are being used by scientists at the John Innes Centre
in Norwich (JIC)  to grow virus particles that can be decorated with
a chemical turning the particles into a kind of molecular capacitor.
Nanotechnology is the study of tiny structures in the scale of 1/100,000
of the width of a human hair and crosses the disciplines of chemistry,
biology and physics. This work has been published in the journal “Small”
 and is the first piece of nanotechnology from the John Innes Centre.
The researchers at the institute are using a harmless virus of Cowpea
plants because its tiny size and unique structure makes it an ideal
scaffold for decoration with various chemicals to give different characteristics,
depending on the application required .
“This is an exciting discovery in bionanotechnology, at the interface
of chemistry and biology, using plant viruses to produce electronically
active nanoparticles of defined size” says Nicole Steinmetz, a PhD student
working on the EU-funded project  in the group of Dr Dave Evans (Project
Leader) in collaboration with Dr. George Lomonossoff in the Department
of Biological Chemistry, “Future applications may be in, for example,
biosensors, nanoelectronic devices, and electrocatalytic processes.”
Professor Chris Lamb, Director, JIC said "The combination of expertise
from different disciplines, in this case plant virology and chemistry,
is one of the strengths of the John Innes Centre, with long term fundamental
research programmes underpinning exciting innovations that can lead
to discoveries such as this."
This project is still in the very early stages, but the scientists
hope that this groundbreaking research will lead to the development
of the technology for use in medical as well as industrial applications.
Notes for Editors:
1. The John Innes Centre (JIC), Norwich, UK is an independent, world-leading
research centre in plant and microbial sciences. The JIC has over 800
staff and students. JIC carries out high quality fundamental, strategic
and applied research to understand how plants and microbes work at the
molecular, cellular and genetic levels. The JIC also trains scientists
and students, collaborates with many other research laboratories and
communicates its science to end-users and the general public. The JIC
is grant-aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research
2. This work was published in Small (2006) 4, 530 - 533. (Publishers:
3. The Cowpea mosaic virus has characteristics of an ideal nanoscaffold/building
block. It has a sphere-like structure of 28 nm diameter and its properties
are defined. The virus particles can be obtained in gram scale from
1 kg of infected plant leaves. Amino acids on the exterior surface of
the virus particle provide sites of attachment for a range of chemicals.
4. This work is funded by the EU Marie Curie Early Stage Research Training
Scheme that provides funding for PhD students in the European Union.