Everybody is talking about the bio–based economy – But what is the truth behind the slogan? How close are developments for the renewable energy, food, animal feed, fine & bulk chemical, textile, printing, machinery manufacturing and IT industries to market introduction? With ACHEMA 2012's special issue BioBasedWorld just ahead, lets take a closer look at the industry, and see if biotechnology and renewables can already deliver solutions to meet the challenges of tomorrow....
Most people will have seen the Schizophyllum commune (commonly known as the split gill fungus) at some point. Colonies form on dead trees and wounded bark. It has been known since the early 1990’s that the fungus protects itself against decay by coating its surface with hydrophobins. These proteins, which are about 100 to 150 amino acids long, are hydrophobic and readily soluble in fat. Closer scientific scrutiny has shown that hydrophobins have the opposite property as well: As is the case with soap, hydrophobins are amphiphilic.
Secretions from the Split Gill Fungus Looking for Partners
This multi-functionality can be exploited to create customer value-add for many products. However, that has not been easy. 1 mg of the hydrophobins is distributed over an area covering one square meter on the surface of the fungus. “Far too little ever to be of any use to humans,” explained Claus Bollschweiler, a developer at BASF Performance Chemicals and Biologicals. “Biotechnology and genetic engineering provide the only path for producing such a naturally rare but highly efficient protein on a large scale so that it can be used to develop innovative products.”
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Genetic Engineering Enable New Bio Products
Genetic engineering techniques and fermentation have only recently made it feasible to produce hydrophobins by the ton. Functional coatings on construction materials are the initial applications including water-repellent insulating foam and silicon sealant which can be painted over. The silicon will only absorb paint once the surface has been treated with the fungus protein. The application spectrum for new product development is as broad as it is open. The fungus proteins could potentially be used in cosmetics for skin rehydration or in fur coloring products for pedigree dogs and cats.
Improvements in Pharmaceuticals Textiles and Aquaculture Ahead?
This would be done by linking them to keratin-binding natural or synthetic polypeptides. These hydrophobins might also help achieve functional improvements in pharmaceuticals, textiles and aquaculture feed. Hydrophobins are expected to play a significant role in the chemical production of thermoplastic particles where static charge on polystyrene foam continues to cause problems. The current approach is to prevent the problem by coating the particles, but the particles tend to stick together when conventional techniques are used, which impairs pourability.
Biorefineries, biobased products, renewable resources, industrial biotechnology — the bio-based economy is not a buzzword, but living reality – and ACHEMA is in on it! See also BiobasedWorld at ACHEMA …a New Format for the Bioeconomy!
Discover, why there is virtually no limit to the possible applications for these and other natural substances produced with the aid of biotechnology, and how the process industry reacts with intelligent devices and new technologies on page 2!
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