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Squid proteins help create self-healing fabrics

Imagine you just tore your favorite pair of pants. You’d have to spend some time with a needle and thread to have any hope of salvaging them, and you need to actually be adept at sewing. In the future, however, your pants might be able to heal themselves with a little splash of water. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the US Naval Research Laboratory have used a protein from squid tentacles to create self-healing fabric.

Different teams of researchers have recently identified interesting self-assembly proteins in the ring teeth of squid. The Pennsylvania State University researchers took samples from the ring teeth of a European Common Squid (Loligo vulgaris) in the hope of identifying the mechanism. There’s only a very small amount of protein in the ring teeth — about one gram for a 5kg squid. So, they had to cut up a lot of squid. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten. The team was able to identify LvSRT as the main component of the self-healing properties of squid ring teeth.

Underwater, this protein has flexible regions that stick together with hydrogen bonds when pressed together. There are also hard segments that reinforce the strength of the connection. Since we don’t live underwater, the protein is inert until you get it wet. The researchers devised a system for coating fabric with thin layers of protein. First, they dipped the fabric in a negatively charged polystyrene sulfonate solution. Then, the positively charged LvSRT solution was applied. The two oppositely charged materials form the base layer of the material. Additional layers can be added on top with other proteins that could be used to break down toxins or pesticides.

The result is a fabric that sticks together when you get it web. The team cut pieces of the treated fabric and applied water to repair them. The repaired textiles were just as strong and flexible as before. The squid protein treatment was tested on several different types of fabric including cotton, wool, and linen. The researchers believe this technology could have viable commercial applications if the coating process can be sped up. We would also need a source of synthetic LvSRT protein rather than sacrificing a bunch of squid.

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