Paper on “materials farming” published in Science
In current smart-textile manufacturing processes the functionality is typically provided by external chemical treatment of the fibers, which can degenerate through wear or washing. The approach presented in a recent paper in Science by a group around Filipe Natalio differs radically, i.e., it relies exclusively on molecular design of glucose derivatives with the desired functionality subsequently fed into a complex biological factory to fabricate functional fibers. With this approach the authors were able to in-vitro cultivate cotton plants producing fibers with unnatural properties like fluorescence or magnetism. This “intentional” biological conversion of raw materials is coined “biofabrication” by the authors.
The scientific contribution from the Institute of Physics at MUL consisted in the detailed nanostructure analysis of the fibers with X-ray diffraction and small-angle X-ray scattering. Together with other findings these experiments conclusively revealed the incorporation of the functional moieties within the - only a few nanometer thick - cellulose fibrils inside the cotton fibers. The crystallinity of the fibrils was however strongly reduced in those fibers hosting the functional moieties.
Original publication: Biological fabrication of cellulose fibers with tailored properties, Filipe Natalio, Regina Fuchs, Sidney R. Cohen, Gregory Leitus, Gerhard Fritz-Popovski, Oskar Paris, Michael Kappl, Hans-Jürgen Butt, Science 357 (2017), 1118-1122