Protein polymers are custom-designed material-forming proteins. They are made by living cells in the same way as other proteins, but behave like synthetic molecules with special controllable characteristics. They can, for instance, respond to their environment, spontaneously form fibres and hydrogels, or adhere to tissues in our body.
With these material-forming proteins we can develop new high-quality products such as medication, medical applications, cosmetics, adhesives and coatings.
Traditional material proteins and polymers vs. protein polymers
Only frequently occurring proteins such as collagen and gelatine can be extracted from natural sources in a cost-effective way. The main characteristics of these materials are determined by the source and can hardly be changed, while the quality and possible safety risks depend on the origin of the animal or harvest. Moreover, the products often consist of complex protein mixtures. Protein polymers differ from these traditional material proteins as they have controllable characteristics and are normally molecularly pure (not mixtures). In addition, they are produced by safe, genetically pure and aseptically cultivated yeast or bacteria strains. Protein polymers also differ from chemical polymers, which are not usually biodegradable or molecularly pure and rarely biocompatible or biofunctional.
Developing safe and custom proteins
It is a challenge to develop safe protein materials with well-controllable characteristics, for example for medical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research focuses on the development of new bacteria or yeast strains that each produce one specific, custom-made protein polymer.
Designing protein polymers
In close cooperation with our customers, we design protein polymers of which the structure and characteristics are in line with the specific demands of the client. We build the required coding genes into yeast or bacterial cells to make them repeatedly produce the same polymer-like protein in large quantities. The amino acid sequence and block structure of the molecules in these products can be determined by design. We can build the molecule from, for instance, silk-like or collagen-like blocks, blocks with an electrical charge, blocks with the tendency to form a gel, or blocks that are attractive to cells, tissues or surfaces. We can also make the material react to external stimuli such as temperature or pH. In addition to the structure of the protein polymer we develop simple and upscalable purification techniques. Thanks to this approach, we can quickly develop new products and test them for a wide range of characteristics.
Team of experts
Interdisciplinary teams of molecular biologists, industrial microbiologists and process technologists within Wageningen Food & Biobased Research work on specific customer demands. We can complete commissions efficiently and effectively in close cooperation with our clients. We design protein polymers with specific characteristics and produce samples. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has a wealth of research experience for a wide range of clients in the Netherlands and abroad. We also support clients in the realisation of commercial products and help them find the right production partner(s).