Temperature-Switchable Agglomeration of Magnetic Particles Designed for Continuous Separation Processes in Biotechnology

The purpose of this work was the synthesis and characterization of thermally switchable magnetic particles for use in biotechnological applications such as protein purification and enzymatic conversions. Reversible addition–fragmentation chain-transfer polymerization was employed to synthesize poly­(<i>N</i>-isopropylacrylamide) brushes via a “graft-from” approach on the surface of magnetic microparticles. The resulting particles were characterized by infrared spectroscopy and thermogravimetric analysis and their temperature-dependent agglomeration behavior was assessed. The influence of several factors on particle agglomeration (pH, temperature, salt type, and particle concentration) was evaluated. The results showed that a low pH value (pH 3–4), a kosmotropic salt (ammonium sulfate), and a high particle concentration (4 g/L) resulted in improved agglomeration at elevated temperature (40 °C). Recycling of particles and reversibility of the temperature-switchable agglomeration were successfully demonstrated for ten heating–cooling cycles. Additionally, enhanced magnetic separation was observed for the modified particles. Ionic monomers were integrated into the polymer chain to create end-group functionalized particles as well as two- and three-block copolymer particles for protein binding. The adsorption of lactoferrin, bovine serum albumin, and lysozyme to these ion exchange particles was evaluated and showed a binding capacity of up to 135 mg/g. The dual-responsive particles combined magnetic and thermoresponsive properties for switchable agglomeration, easy separability, and efficient protein adsorption.