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Silk-based material programmed for pre-designed functions

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New York: Researchers have created a novel material out of silk protein that can be pre-programmed with biological, chemical, or optical functions, such as mechanical components that change colour with strain, deliver drugs, or respond to light, according to IANS.

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Using a water-based fabrication method based on protein self-assembly, the researchers generated three-dimensional bulk materials out of silk fibroin, the protein that gives silk its durability. Then they manipulated the bulk materials with water-soluble molecules to create multiple solid forms, from the nano- to the micro-scale, that have embedded, pre-designed functions, according to the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


For example, the researchers created a surgical pin that changes colour as it nears its mechanical limits and is about to fail, functional screws that can be heated on demand in response to infrared light, and a biocompatible component that enables the sustained release of bioactive agents, such as enzymes.

“The ability to embed functional elements in biopolymers, control their self-assembly, and modify their ultimate form creates significant opportunities for bio-inspired fabrication of high-performing multifunctional materials,” said senior study author Fiorenzo Omenetto, Professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts, US.

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Silk’s unique crystalline structure makes it one of nature’s toughest materials. Fibroin, an insoluble protein found in silk, has a remarkable ability to protect other materials while being fully biocompatible and biodegradable, the researchers pointed out.