Biomineralization processes leading to complex solid structures of inorganic material in biological systems are constantly gaining attention in biotechnology and biomedical research. An outstanding example for biomineral morphogenesis is the formation of highly elaborate, nano-patterned silica shells by diatoms. Among the organic macromolecules that have been closely linked to the tightly controlled precipitation of silica in diatoms, silaffins play an extraordinary role. These peptides typically occur as complex posttranslationally modified variants and are directly involved in the silica deposition process in diatoms. However, even in vitro
silaffin-based peptides alone, with and without posttranslational modifications, can efficiently mediate biomimetic silica precipitation leading to silica material with different properties as well as with encapsulated cargo molecules of a large size range. In this review, the biomineralization process of silica in diatoms is summarized with a specific focus on silaffins and their in vitro
silica precipitation properties. Applications in the area of bio- and nanotechnology as well as in diagnostics and therapy are discussed.
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