Textile waste is a serious environmental issue that will continue to grow if practical and economic solutions cannot be found that either reduce the production of waste or that close the loop and turn the waste into new products. Textile production processes require high volumes of water, energy and chemicals. The fashion industry with its current fast fashion business model, has greatly contributed to the volumes of waste and the rate at which this waste is generated. Fast fashion creates a demand for 80 billion new garments each year, yet garments typically follow a linear life cycle in which after use, garments are disposed to landfill rather than reused or recycled.
There is a great opportunity to add functional engineered proteins to textiles for high-tech applications. This opportunity has arisen due to the development of new synthetic biology tools and the need to reduce waste, enable local manufacturing and deliver products that protect the community.
The project focuses on cellulosic/cotton textiles and on methods that are compatible with applying the proteins in the fabric softener stage of the wash cycle (domestic and commercial).
Specific proteins exist in nature that are capable of binding to cellulose/cotton, called Cellulose Binding Domains (CBDs). We take advantage of established CBDs to generate three novel fusion proteins using synthetic biology tools and develop an application system that is compatible with domestic and commercial wash cycles.
We present three examples of proteins with textile applications that:
- can repair cotton clothing at a molecular level in situ,
- can be used to custom dye textiles and
- can selectively bind viruses in personal protective equipment such as face masks.
Pichia pastoris yeast strains are engineered to produce the fused proteins consisting of various CBDs together with a) cellulose endotransglucosylase (CET) enzyme for repairing damaged cellulose fibres on clothes with every wash to keep clothes away from landfill for longer, b) chromoproteins conjugated to a pigmented prosthetic group with a colour range from red to blue to give clothing a colour customisable longer life, and c) a recently discovered peptide that interacts with SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) spike surface protein for specific viral particle binding in much needed high performance, washable and re-usable personal protective equipment.
Synthetic Biology enables the development of novel and sustainable products, in this case for next generation textile applications. Our diverse team has extensive expertise in genetic engineering of P. pastoris for production and industrial application of proteins, Dr Laura Navone and Professor Robert Speight; Professor Spann brings extensive virology expertise; Dr Rainey and Dr Johnson have extensive experience of cellulose processing and face mask testing; and fashion expert Associate Professor Payne provides textile industry expertise to ensure that the developed technology is compatible with future applications.