Turning egg whites into antibacterial plastic

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

As a food, egg whites are high in protein and low in fat, and they are also used in the preparation of vaccines such as those used for influenza. But now researchers from the University of Georgia have found another way where the albumen may be beneficial to your health.

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Writing in a recent edition of the Journal of Applied Polymer Science, the researchers report that bioplastics made from protein sources such as egg whites have antibacterial properties and could be useful in medical implements such as sutures, wound dressings, and catheter tubes.

Alex Jones, a doctoral student in the department of textiles, merchandising and interiors at UGA, and his colleagues tested three nontraditional bioplastic materials (egg whites, whey protein, and soy proteins) as alternatives to conventional petroleum-based plastics. Albumin in particular was found to demonstrate significant antibacterial properties when mixed with a plasticizing agent.

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“It was found that it had complete inhibition, as in no bacteria would grow on the plastic once applied. The bacteria wouldn’t be able to live on it,” said Jones. In addition to reducing the risk of potential contamination, the bioplastic material could also be used for food packaging.

“Albumin and whey bioplastics exhibited similar thermal and viscoelastic properties, whereas soy bioplastics had varied viscoelastic properties based on the plasticizer used,” the study authors added. “ In terms of antibacterial activity, the albumin–glycerol and whey–glycerol were the best bioplastics, as no bacterial growth was observed on the plastics” after a 24-hour period.

Plus it’s fully biodegradable!

Jones and his fellow researchers set out with the goal of finding a way to lower the amount of petroleum used in traditional plastic production and to develop a fully biodegradable bioplastic. The albumin-glycerol blended material meets both criteria, according to the researchers.

“If you put it in a landfill, this being pure protein, it will break down. If you put it in soil for a month – at most two months – these plastics will disappear,” Jones said. He added that the next step will be to further analyze the albumin-based bioplastic’s potential for use in the biomedical and food packaging fields, including as a possible drug-delivery method.

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As the authors reported in their study, nearly five percent of all US hospital admissions in 2002 resulted in a hospital-acquired infection. Jones and his colleagues said that they are encouraged by the results of the study, and particularly with the antimicrobial properties of albumin-based bioplastics.

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