Could squid provide an eco-friendly alternative to plastics?

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Self-healing fabric, abrasion-resistant coatings, precision drug delivery and smart textiles are potential applications of squid ‘ring tooth’ protein

The remarkable properties of a recently-discovered squid protein could revolutionize materials in a way that would be unattainable with conventional plastic, finds a review published in Frontiers in Chemistry. Originating in the ringed teeth of a squid’s predatory arms, this protein can be processed into fibers and films with applications ranging from ‘smart’ clothes for health monitoring, to self-healing recyclable fabrics that reduce microplastic pollution. Materials made from this protein are eco-friendly and biodegradable, with sustainable large-scale production achieved using laboratory culture methods.

“Squid proteins can be used to produce next generation materials for an array of fields including energy and biomedicine, as well as the security and defense sector,” says lead author Melik Demirel, Lloyd and Dorothy Foehr Huck Endowed Chair in Biomimetic Materials, and Director of Center for Research on Advanced Fiber Technologies (CRAFT) at Penn State University, USA. “We reviewed the current knowledge on squid ring teeth-based materials, which are an excellent alternative to plastics because they are eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable.”

Squid ring teeth are all-rounders

As humanity awakens to the aftermath of a 100-year party of plastic production, we are beginning to heed nature’s warnings – and its solutions.

“Nature produces a variety of smart materials capable of environmental sensing, self-healing and exceptional mechanical function. These materials, or biopolymers, have unique physical properties that are not readily found in synthetic polymers like plastic. Importantly, biopolymers are sustainable and can be engineered to enhance their physical properties,” explains Demirel.

The oceans, which have borne the brunt of plastic pollution, are at the center of the search for sustainable alternatives. A newly-discovered protein from squid ring teeth (SRT) – circular predatory appendages located on the suction cups of squid, used to strongly grasp prey – has gained interest because of its remarkable properties and sustainable production.

The elasticity, flexibility and strength of SRT-based materials, as well as their self-healing, optical, and thermal and electrical conducting properties, can be explained by the variety of molecular arrangements they can adopt. SRT proteins are composed of building blocks arranged in such a way that micro-phase separation occurs. This is a similar situation to oil and water but on a much smaller, nano-scale. The blocks cannot separate completely to produce two distinct layers, so instead molecular-level shapes are created, such as repeating cylindrical blocks, disordered tangles or ordered layers. The shapes formed dictate the property of the material and scientists have experimented with these to produce SRT-based products for a variety of uses.

Learn more: Squid could provide an eco-friendly alternative to plastics



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