Proteins as solid-state electronic conductors

Izhar Ron, Israel Pecht, Mordechai Sheves, David Cahen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Protein structures can facilitate long-range electron transfer in solution. But a fundamental question remains: can these structures also serve as solid-state electronic conductors? Answering this question requires methods for studying conductivity of the "dry" protein (which only contains tightly bound structured water molecules) sandwiched between two electronic conductors in a solid-state type configuration. If successful, such systems could serve as the basis for future, bioinspired electronic device technology. In this Account, we survey, analyze, and compare macroscopic and nanoscopic (scanning probe) solid-state conductivities of proteins, noting the inherent constraints of each of these, and provide the first status report on this research area. This analysis shows convincing evidence that "dry" proteins pass orders of magnitude higher currents than saturated molecules with comparable thickness and that proteins with known electrical activity show electronic conductivity, nearly comparable to that of conjugated molecules ("wires"). These findings suggest that the structural features of proteins must have elements that facilitate electronic conductivity, even if they do not have a known electron transfer function. As a result, proteins could serve not only as sensing, polar,or photoactive elements in devices (such as field-effect transistor configurations) but also as electronic conductors. Current knowledge of peptide synthesis and protein modification paves the way toward a greater understanding of how changes in a protein's structure affect its conductivity. Such an approach could minimize the need for biochemical cascades in systems such as enzyme-based circuits, which transduce the protein's response to electronic current. In addition, as precision and sensitivity of solid-state measurements increase, and as knowledge of the structure and function of "dry" proteins grows, electronic conductivity may become an additional approach to study electron transfer in proteins and solvent effects without the introduction of donor or acceptor moieties. We are particularly interested in whether evolution might have prompted the electronic carrier transport capabilities of proteins for which no electrically active function is known in their native biological environment and anticipate that further research may help address this fascinating question.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)945-953
Number of pages9
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - 20 Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry


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