Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) is a very stable nanotube complex of a helical RNA and 2130 coat proteins. The special shape makes it an interesting nano-object, especially as a template for chemical reactions. Here we use TMV as a chemically functionalized template for binding metal ions. Different chemical groups of the coat protein can be used as ligands or to electrostatically bind metal ions. Following this activation step, chemical reduction and electroless plating produces metal clusters of several nanometers in diameter. The clusters are attached to the virion without destroying its structure. Gold clusters generated from an ascorbic acid bath bind to the exterior surface as well as to the central channel of the hollow tube. Very high selectivity is reached by tuning PdII and PtII activations with phosphate: When TMV is first activated with PdII, and thereafter metallized with a nickel–phosphinate bath, 3 nm nickel clusters grow in the central channel; when TMV from phosphate-buffered suspensions is employed, larger nickel clusters grow on the exterior surface. Phosphate buffers have to be avoided when 3 nm nickel and cobalt wires of several 100 nm in length are synthesized from borane-based baths inside the TMV channel. The results are discussed with respect to the inorganic complex chemistry of precursor molecules and the distribution of binding sites in TMV.
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