Researchers have produced biomolecular glass from amino acids and peptides – the building blocks of proteins – in a study published in Science Advances. This glass is transparent, 3D printable, moldable and biodegradable. However, it is unsuitable for applications such as beverage bottles because it would decompose in liquids.
Jun Liu, a materials scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, says, “Nobody ever tried this with biomaterials in the past. It’s a good discovery.”
Biomolecular glass can break down more easily than conventional glass, offering a more environmentally friendly alternative.
Xuehai Yan, co-author of the study and a chemist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, points out, “The development of renewable, benign and degradable materials is highly appealing for a sustainable future.”
The researchers modified the ends of the amino acids to allow them to melt without disintegrating and cooled them quickly to prevent a cloudy crystalline structure.
When the researchers exposed the biomolecular glass to digestive fluids and compost, it took anywhere from a few weeks to several months to dissolve, depending on the chemical modification and the amino acid or peptide used.
Although biomolecular glass is still a curiosity in the lab, it opens a new avenue for materials scientists to explore, according to Ting Xu, a materials scientist. Because it is biodegradable, it is not suitable for humid environments, but could be beneficial in miniature flexible devices such as microscope lenses.
Find out more about University of Washington at washington.edu.
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