Using a new approach to assembling plant proteins into materials that mimic silk at the molecular level, Cambridge researchers have created a plant-based polymer that mimics the properties of spider silk and could replace single-use plastics in many products .
The result is a separate, plastic-like film that can be manufactured on an industrial scale. Additionally, the material is compostable at home, while other types of bioplastics require industrial composting facilities to degrade.
New product marketed
The new product will be marketed by Xampla , a spin-off from the University of Cambridge, and does not require chemical modifications of its natural components, so it can safely degrade in most natural environments. The company will introduce a range of single-use sachets and capsules later this year, which can replace the plastic used in everyday products .
The researchers successfully replicated the structures found in spider silk using soy protein isolate, a protein with a completely different composition.
Proteins have a propensity for molecular self-organization and self-assembly, and plant proteins in particular are abundant and can be obtained sustainably as by-products of the food industry . As Tuomas Knowles of the Cambridge Department of Chemistry Yusuf Hamied explains:
We found that one of the key characteristics that gives spider silk its strength is that the hydrogen bonds are regularly arranged in space and at a very high density.