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  HOME | Science, Nature & Technology

Rise of Biopolymers: Squid’s Tentacle Component Could Substitute Plastics

MADRID – Plastic could become a thing of the past according to a scientific study published on Thursday which suggested a protein present in minute teeth found in the suction cups of squid’s tentacles could pave the way to a whole new class of sustainable materials with cutting-edge properties.

Researchers have focused on the Squid’s Ring Teeth, which located inside the suction cups used by this mollusk to capture and hold its prey.

The SRT is composed of a protein complex which can be extracted either directly from natural sources (squid) or via biosynthetic routes, using genetically modified bacteria or yeast, according to a study published today in the Frontiers in Chemistry journal.

SRTs contain a protein called “squitex” that could be converted into a fiber with immediate applications in the field of intelligent or self-healing, recyclable, textile materials and thereby contribute in decreasing the menace of microplastic pollutants.

Melik Demirel, the study’s lead investigator, said in an interview with EFE, that: “these materials, also known as biopolymers, have unique properties which synthetic polymers, such as plastic, lack.”

He said they were environmentally sustainable and can be further developed to augment their inherent properties.

“Plastics have improved the mobility of the average citizen, helping them get dressed, cook, etc.” the researcher added. “However, after a century of enjoying its advantages, we concluded that plastics are not sustainable. The next generation of biosynthetic materials will provide the same benefits but also be ecological..”

The scientist insisted “Squitex” proteins could be used to generate materials applicable in many fields, including biomedicine or security and defense.

Demirel pointed out that the textile sector was one of the most polluting industries with regards to microplastics, as these synthetic fabrics, such as polyester or nylon, all derive from the oil industry. Microfiber byproducts of these materials are a widespread pollutant in the modern world.

For Demirel, SRT proteins could be a solution due to its durable properties greater than most comparable synthetic materials.

In practical terms, clothes with this fabric would be more resistant to washing cycles. Its use could even go towards military gears, such as chemical or biological weapon-resistant suits.

Another advantage the study undertaken at the University of Pennsylvania concludes is that no squid have to be killed to isolate the SRT protein, but rather it can be synthesized with sustainable materials.

The scientists behind the research recreated the protein by simply subjecting water, sugar, and oxygen to a fermentation process.

Demirel said they were working in the “field of materials processing technology” to obtain proteins that can be used “in industrial manufacturing processes.” He also disclosed he was co-founder of a company seeking to commercialize Squitex.

 

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