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Engineering the surface chemistry of a material so that it can interface with cells is an extraordinarily demanding task. The surface of a cell is composed of thousands of different lipids, proteins and carbohydrates, all intricately (and dynamically) arranged in three dimensions on multiple length scales. This complexity presents both a challenge and an opportunity to chemists working on bioactive interfaces. Here we discuss how some of these challenges can be met with interdisciplinary material synthesis. We also review the most popular classes of functional molecules grafted on engineered surfaces and explore some alternatives that may offer greater flexibility and specificity. Finally, we discuss the emerging field of dynamic surfaces capable of stimulating and responding to cellular activity in real time.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Chem

Publication Date





582 - 589


Carbohydrates, Cell Membrane, Lipids, Proteins