HYPOTHESIS: Despite advances in understanding the R5 (SSKKSGSYSGKSGSKRRIL) peptide-driven bio-silica process, there remains significant discrepancies regarding the physicochemical characterization and the self-assembling mechanistic driving forces of the supramolecular R5 template. This paper investigates the self-assembly of R5 as a function of monovalent (sodium chloride) and multivalent salt (phosphate) to determine if assembly is phosphate ion concentration dependent. Additionally, we hypothesize that the assembled R5 aggregates do not resemble a micelle or unimer structure as proposed in current literature.
EXPERIMENTS: R5 peptides were synthesized, and aggregates evaluated for their size, morphology, and association state as a function of salt and ionic strength concentration via dynamic and static light scattering, small angle X-ray and neutron scattering and cryogenic transmission electron microscopy. Furthermore, we compare the proposed R5 template to precipitated silica by scanning electron microscopy.
FINDINGS: R5 peptides assemble into large aggregates due to multivalence bridging and the decrease in electrostatic repulsion due to ionic strength. We elucidate the structure of R5 aggregates as mass-fractals composed of small spherical aggregates. Moreover, we discover that phosphate ions not only have a significant role in driving the growth of the R5 scaffold, but additionally in driving the polycondensation of silicic acid during the bio-silification process via electrostatic interactions.