Biopolymer surface functionalization: Simple Step-By-Step guide

Biopolymer Surface Functionalization of Biomaterials

Introduction to Surface Functionalization of Biopolymers

Immobilizing (or covalently attaching) proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and other polymers on biopolymer surfaces is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Want your surface to be hydrophobic or hydrophilic? Want to attach interesting fluorescent molecules on a sensor surface? There are a ton of possibilities! One of the most common uses for biopolymer surface functionalization is Surface Plasmon Resonance. Here, a protein is covalently attached to a gold surface and several different ligands are flowed past the protein-surface. Researchers can then study the binding and unbinding of ligands to proteins on the gold surface and determine on/off rates etc.

For more information on methods for protein bioconjugation to gold, take a look at our article.

Take a look at the image below:

SPR Functionalized Biopolymers

Another reason for immobilization of materials on a biopolymer surface might be to make it more hydrophilic. For a long time we have known that functionalizing long hydrophilic polymers on a surface can help prevent clotting and protein binding. This is one of the key methods for improving the blood compatibility of biomaterials. Without proteins to bind the surface and subsequent activation of platelets, biomaterials can be used inside the body for longer periods of time and they can even be implanted!

Curious about how you can tell if your protein attached to the surface? Label your protein with a fluorescent probe with our method!

PEG Functionalized Biomaterial Surface

A Super-Simple EDC/NHS method for Surface Functionalization of Proteins on a Biopolymer

A common method for modifying the surface of a carboxyl-containing polymer with protein, is to attach the N-Terminus of the protein onto the surface. Here is a simple representation of the chemistry:

EDC NHS Biopolymer Surface Functionalization

Materials for EDC/NHS Surface Immobilization of Proteins

  • Coupling Buffer: We need to make sure that your protein is neutrally charged using an appropriate buffer (and your knowledge of the isoelectric point, pI, of the protein). Make a buffer with 100 mM Formic acid (pH 3-4.5) , acetic acid (pH 4.0 – 5.5), or maleic acid (pH 5..5 – 7.0) in water. Use NaOH for pH equilibriation.
  • EDC [1-Ethyl-3-(3-dimethylamoniminopropyl) carboodiimide] at 0.4 M in water. Store at -20 C in small aliquots.
  • NHS [N-Hydroxysuccinimide] dissolved in water at 0.1 M. Store at -20 C in small aliquots.
  • Ethanolamine Hydrochloride dissolved in water at 1 M concentration, pH 8.5. Store at -20 C in small aliquots.
  • Your Protein of Interest at 50 ug/ml in an appropriate buffer.

Step-by-Step Biopolymer Functionalization Methodology

  1. Wash the biopolymer surface with coupling buffer
  2. Thaw EDC, NHS, and Ethanolamine aliquots.
  3. Incubate the protein of interest with EDC and NHS at a 1:1 EDC:NHS ratio. Also, incubate the biopolymer surface with the EDC/NHS solutions. Leave at room temperature for 10 minutes.
  4. Wash the biopolymer solution with coupling solution 3 times.
  5. Add the protein + EDC/NHS solution onto the surface and incubate for 15 minutes.
  6. Wash the surface with coupling buffer
  7. Add ethanolamine solution onto the surface and incubate for 10 minutes
  8. Wash the surface with your protein storage buffer to re-equilibriate.

You can also utilize protein conjugation chemistry to impart unique tags onto your proteins that make them easier to functionalize onto surfaces.

Notes on this Surface Functionalization Methodology

  • If your biopolymer doesn’t have carboxyl groups, this methodology will not work. Choose an appropriate coupling technique based on the surface you’re trying to functionalize.
  • EDC is hygroscopic and breaks down quickly in water. Keep the solid EDC under dry gas and if you have any EDC solutions, make sure to use them quickly or freeze them!
  • Don’t reuse thawed EDC aliquots.
  • You can change the incubation lengths to improve coupling efficiency between the protein and the surface.

Other Surface Functionalization methods on SciGine

Great Homebrew Video of Surface Modification

Literature References for Biopolymer Surface Functionalization

HPLC: Biochemical Analysis. A Step-By-Step Method Guide

HPLC Analysis Step by Step

HPLC Method Overview

HPLC, or high performance liquid chromatography is an amazing analytical technique for chemical compounds including biopolymers, small molecules, and polymers. In this method, a sample is first dissolved to make a solution. This solution is then injected into a “column” that contains resin that will interact with the sample. This will slow down the movement of the sample through the “column” and as the sample comes out the other side of the column, it is detected. This allows you to know both the time at which the sample comes out and the intensity of the sample that was detected. Here’s an overview of this technique:

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HPLC Bioanalytical Method Guide

So, while there is continuous flow of some buffer through the column, we also inject our sample and observe as different molecules within the sample come out at different “retention times”. The detector on the end of the column can be any kind of detector but the most common types are refractive index (RI), ultraviolet (DAD), and fluorescence (FLD). Each of these will detect different properties of the molecules that come out of the column and display a chromatogram.

HPLC Chromatogram Guide

Types of Chromatography

Different column resin compositions determine the kind of chromatography that you are running and what molecules you can separate.

  • Normal Phase: The column is filled with silica particles which are polar and the buffer running through the system is non-polar. Once you inject your sample, polar particles will stick to the silica more and have a longer retention time than non-polar molecules.
  • Reverse Phase: The column is filled with hydrophobic particles (actually they are silica particles with long hydrocarbons on the surface). The buffer that is running through the system is polar (such as acetonitrile/water or methanol/water mixtures). This means that hydrophobic molecules will stick to the resin more and be retained longer.

Complete Step by Step HPLC guide


HPLC autosampler vialsI only use autosamplers since manual injection is tedious 🙂
Centrifugal filters with 0.2 um poresTo clean up samples
Eppendorf vialsFor centrifuging
HPLC machine


In a typical HPLC procedure you can decide the following variables:

VariableWhat it does
Flow rateWith fast flow peaks come out sooner but there’s they’re harder to resolve and tend to blend together. For more resolution, run slower.
PressureAffected by flow rate and solvent
Solvent BuffersDetermines signal intensity, how quickly the peaks come out, signal fidelity
Column TypeDetermines the type of interaction with the sample
Detection ParametersIf using UV or FLD, you need to set the right excitation/emission wavelengths

Since HPLC is a very machine-variable technique, I can only provide general guidelines.

For sample preparation:

  1. Dissolve your biopolymers or small molecules in a suitable solvent such as methanol
  2. Centrifuge at 10,000 rcf in an eppendorf vial and keep the supernatant to remove any large particular matter
  3. With a centrifugal filter, add 500 ul of your sample solution onto the top
  4. Centrifuge at 10,000 rcf and collect the filtrate (the solution that successfully passes through the filter)
  5. Load this sample into an HPLC vial

For setting up the HPLC machine:

  1. Make sure you have all your buffers set up
  2. Open the purge valve and purge the system for 5 minutes.
  3. Add your samples into the autosampler tray
  4. Stop the purge
  5. Close the purge valve
  6. Run the system at a normal flow rate (1 ml/min) with your buffer to equilibrate the column for 10 minutes
  7. Make sure that your pressure is stable (ie, less than 2-3 bar of fluctuation)
  8. Set up your sequence and your method
  9. Run a standard before your actual samples or as part of the same sequence

Example buffer system to determine Fluoresceinamine levels in samples:
Sample: Add 10 ug of fluoresceinamine into 1 ml of Acetonitrile.
Buffer: Pure acetonitrile buffer on a C-18 column; this is “reverse phase”.
Flow rate: 1 ml/min.
Column: 4.6 mm x 30 cm size.
Detection: Detect via a fluorescence detector set to Excitation @ 485 nm and Emission @ 535 nm.

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Notes on HPLC methodology

  • To clean the system and equilibriate it, you need to run enough solvent. However, this amount varies column-to- column. A typical 4.6 mm x 30 cm column should be clean when you follow the procedure above.
  • Isocratic means that the solvent concentration stays constant throughout the run.
  • It is useful to run standards before your samples as well as with your samples. Standards make it easy to identify which peak pertains to your molecule of interest.
  • Always use HPLC grade solvents. This is especially true for solvents like THF which are frequently sold with inhibitors that also complicate your ability to detect your molecule of interest.

Applications of HPLC on SciGine

HPLC is such a versatile technique. Take a look at these methods on SciGine which assay different types of chemicals in various samples.


ChemGuide Summary of Technique
Method Guide from Waters
Overview on Wiki