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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/V052020/1
Title: Manufacturing High Performance Wearable De Novo Polypeptide Fabrics
Principal Investigator: Shaffer, Professor M
Other Investigators:
MacDonald, Dr J Freemont, Professor PS
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Lululemon Athletica Prozomix Limited
Department: Chemistry
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 January 2021 Ends: 31 March 2022 Value (£): 251,941
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Biomaterials Manufact. Enterprise Ops& Mgmt
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Manufacturing
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
High performance fibres and synthetic textiles are used in large quantities in both industrial and consumer products. They are produced from petrochemical sources and are rarely biodegradable. Whilst some are in principle recyclable, laundry operations lead to uncontrolled release of microplastic pollution into the environment, including the oceans. Natural fibres, such as cotton, make significant demands on land and water use, and have limited mechanical properties. This project will develop an entirely new approach to manufacturing fibres by spinning them from designer proteins grown by microbial fermentation. The resulting materials will be sustainable, biodegradable, and re-processible.

Proteins are large natural molecules built out of exact sequences of amino acids; they play essential structural and functional roles in all known life forms. The specific atomic structures mean that the protein chain folds into a precise and unique 3D shape, rather like a 3D jigsaw puzzle. The size and shape of proteins is much better defined than any conventional polymer (manmade plastic). It is these different shapes that give proteins their individual functions. Recent advances in computational protein design allow specific architectures to be designed deliberately. In combination with improved methods to produce large quantities of these proteins, it is now possible to imagine designing bulk macromolecular materials, with much greater accuracy than existing products. Nature makes effective use of intermediate length scales between individual molecules and extended structures big enough to see. Currently, our synthetic materials are poorly controlled in this range. By designing specific protein sequences, we can create self-organising units that simplify both protein production and the process of spinning useful fibres. These units automatically align and pack, increasing mechanical performance, whilst retaining the attractive features of natural protein fibres, which make them so comfortable to wear. Existing attempts to develop this idea have used versions of natural proteins that are extremely difficult to convert into high quality textiles, using conventional bulk manufacturing processes. This project uses newly designed motifs, created from first principles, in order to resolve the crucial obstacles at each step of the supply chain from fermentation, through fibre spinning, to textile conversion. The project will demonstrate the scalability of each step, and produce physical fabric samples. This demonstration, together with key data on production yields and textile performance, will underpin further investment in this revolutionary technology, within the UK. Crucially, the technology will disrupt with existing textile supply chains, allowing new environmentally sound local production. This highly interdisciplinary project will bring together structural biology, synthetic biology, computational protein design, and materials science to create a paradigm shift in fabric manufacturing.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk