The new material, which is yet to be named, is a combination of synthetic spider silk protein and wood cellulose fibres. The resulting bioplastic mimics the best properties of plastic without the ecological toll.
The research team’s breakthrough overcomes an obstacle long faced by material scientists: how to bring together elasticity, flexibility and strength. They found inspiration in nature and in spider silk, one of the strongest materials out there.
“Because we know the structure of the DNA, we can copy it and use this to manufacture silk protein molecules which are chemically similar to those found in spider web threads. The DNA has all this information contained in it,” explained Markus Linder, professor at Aalto University.
New and versatile possibilities
The research is part of the Academy of Finland’s ongoing project on the molecular engineering of biosynthetic hybrid materials, which explores new ways in which biological and genetic engineering can enhance research in material science from the molecular to the nano level.
“Our work illustrates the new and versatile possibilities of protein engineering,” said Pezhman Mohammadi, research scientist at VTT.
“In future, we could manufacture similar composites with slightly different building blocks and achieve a different set of characteristics for other applications. Currently we are working on making new composite materials as implants, impact resistance objects and other products.”