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Could squids solve the microplastics crisis?

Tracy Candish

A protein discovered in squid could be used to make eco-friendly fabrics | Credit: Tracy Candish

Newly discovered squid protein could prove valuable ingredient for whole range of eco-friendly plastic materials

A newly discovered protein found in the tough suckers at the end of a squid’s tentacles could hold the key to the development of new eco-friendly plastics.

Research published yesterday by scientists at Penn State University in the US suggests the squid protein – which can be synthetically produced in a lab – can be processed into new plastic fibres and films that could be used to cut microplastic pollution, create self-healing fabrics, and pioneer a new generation of smart materials.  

“Squid proteins can be used to produce next generation materials for an array of fields including energy, biomedicine, as well as the security and defense sector,” said lead author Melik Demirel, director of the Centre for Research on Advanced Fibre Technologies at Penn State University.

The scientists explained that the self-healing qualities of the squid protein was thanks to its microscopic building blocks. They behave in a way similar to oil and water to create molecular-level shapes that afford the material its special properties.

The protein could be harnessed to address microplastic pollution in the oceans by using it to create an abrasion-resistant coating for fabrics, preventing microscopic fibres from shedding off clothes during machine washing.

Shedding from synthetic clothing is a major cause of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, research has found. 

The squid protein could also be used to prolong the use of protective clothing, or develop self-healing fabrics that mend themselves when subjected to heat and pressure, the researchers said.

And in the future, it could even be layered with other technologies to develop ‘smart’ clothing that measures pollution and health data, communicating with the wearer via LEDs or flexible displays.

“Squid ring teeth photonics are biocompatible and biodegradable, so could be used to make not only wearable health monitors but also implantable devices for biosensing and biodetection,” Demirel added.

The scientists were keen to stress the commercial development of squid protein would not require excessive harvesting of wild squid. “We don’t want to deplete natural squid resources and hence we produce these proteins in genetically modified bacteria,” Demiral explained. “The process is based on fermentation and uses sugar, water, and oxygen to produce biopolymers.”

The team are now focusing on the processing technology for the materials, in order to make them available for industrial manufacturing processes.

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Source: – Business Green