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Water-processable, biodegradable and coatable aquaplastic from engineered biofilms


Petrochemical-based plastics have not only contaminated all parts of the globe, but are also causing potentially irreversible damage to our ecosystem because of their non-biodegradability. As bioplastics are limited in number, there is an urgent need to design and develop more biodegradable alternatives to mitigate the plastic menace. In this regard, we report aquaplastic, a new class of microbial biofilm-based biodegradable bioplastic that is water-processable, robust, templatable and coatable. Here, Escherichia coli was genetically engineered to produce protein-based hydrogels, which are cast and dried under ambient conditions to produce aquaplastic, which can withstand strong acid/base and organic solvents. In addition, aquaplastic can be healed and welded to form three-dimensional architectures using water. The combination of straightforward microbial fabrication, water processability and biodegradability makes aquaplastic a unique material worthy of further exploration for packaging and coating applications.

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Fig. 1: Fabrication of aquaplastic directly from engineered microbial biofilms.
Fig. 2: Physical and chemical properties of aquaplastics.
Fig. 3: Chemically resistant aquaplastic and its templated surface structure properties.
Fig. 4: Aqua-healing and aqua-welding of aquaplastic.

Data availability

All relevant data supporting the findings of this study and the plasmids and strains used are available within the Article and its Supplementary Information or from the corresponding authors upon request. Source data are provided with this paper.


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Work was performed in part at the Center for Nanoscale Systems at Harvard. Work in the N.S.J. laboratory is supported by the National Institutes of Health (1R01DK110770, N.S.J.), the National Science Foundation (DMR 2004875, N.S.J.) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Parts of the schematics were adapted from

Author information




A.M.D.-T. and A.M.-B. conceived the idea. A.M.D.-T. and A.M.-B. prepared aquagels, fabricated aquaplastics, tested the chemical resistance of the aquaplastic, performed aquaplastic coating, templating and rehydration studies as well as aqua-healing and aqua-welding. A.M.-B. performed FESEM and nanoindentation studies. N.-M.D.C. and G.I.C. performed initial experiments with aquagels and aquaplastic. A.S.-F. carried out WAXS and DSC studies. L.v.H. performed TGA and DSC studies. B.P.F. performed biodegradation studies. S.K.C. performed tensile tests. D.H.F. supervised B.P.F. R.M. supervised A.S.-F. and L.v.H. A.M.D.-T., A.M.-B. and N.S.J. wrote and/or edited the manuscript. All authors discussed and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Neel S. Joshi.

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Competing interests

A.M.D.-T., N.-M.D.C. and N.S.J. are inventors on patent application WO2017201428A8, submitted by Harvard University.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Coating of curli aquaplastic on various surfaces.

Coating of curli aquaplastic on various surfaces. Optical images of a. Cow leather, b. Plywood c. Mobile phone touch screen, d. Aluminum automobile exterior body part and e. Copper wire coated with curli aquaplastic. FESEM images of coated and uncoated surfaces are shown below.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–17 and Tables 1 and 2.

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Duraj-Thatte, A.M., Manjula-Basavanna, A., Courchesne, NM.D. et al. Water-processable, biodegradable and coatable aquaplastic from engineered biofilms. Nat Chem Biol (2021).

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