Thread spun from crab-shell and seaweed compounds

Thread spun from crab-shell and seaweed compounds


These two droplets contain biomaterials that,
when combined, cling together to form a sturdy and flexible thread. Scientists want to use biobased threads for
a variety of applications, including high-performance textiles and tissue
engineering. But first they’ll need to develop a simple,
scalable production process. And it can be hard to make long, continuous
threads with these biomaterials. In this case, researchers wanted to make a
fiber that combined the properties of chitin, a strong, antimicrobial material derived from
crab shells, and alginate, a compound found in seaweed that is already used for wound
healing and tissue engineering. When the researchers designed this material,
they knew that the negatively charged alginate would be attracted to chitin nanofibers, which
they had modified to have a positive charge. They found that when a solution of alginate
contacts a suspension of chitin nanofibers, the alginate wraps around the nanofibers,
forming fibrils that align in parallel as the thread is drawn upward. The researchers studied how variables like
the concentration of each component and the size of the chitin nanofibers affected the
properties of the composite thread. For example, they found that longer nanofibers
made the thread stronger, but it also broke more frequently, possibly because the larger
nanofibers more easily form clumps that can act as defects. Shorter nanofibers gave the thread more flexibility
and made it easier to spin continuously. In lab tests, the team found that the composite
threads were about as strong as threads made only from the crab-shell-derived chitin. But they had the bonus of flexibility from
the alginate. The researchers plan to explore how further
tweaks might improve the mechanical properties of their new threads.

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