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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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 BioRender.com.
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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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.
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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). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41589-021-00773-y