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Inspired by nature

Researchers use plant suberin to develop new material

Oeiras, 28.03.2014

Chemists are always on the look for new solutions and nature is a good source of inspiration for materials that work. Researchers from the Applied and Environmental Mycology Lab, the Molecular Thermodynamics Lab, and collaborators were able to reconstitute suberin, a waxylike substance present in plants, from cork and obtained a new waterproof and antimicrobial material with the ability to form films. The new material is presented in the latest issue of Biomacromolecules.

Suberin is a biopolyester present in plant cell walls, where it serves as a barrier to keep water in and pathogens out. Despite its interest for many applications, suberin is a structural component of the cell walls and, as such, it cannot be extracted without destroying its chemical skeleton and consequently its inherent properties. In this work, researchers have demonstrated that this biopolyester can be reconstituted ex-situ as films, preserving the unique properties of suberin in plants: waterproof, hydrophobic and bactericidal.

To reconstitute suberin, researchers have resorted to an ionic liquid that serves both as solvent and as mild and selective catalyst towards one of the two types of ester bonds in suberin. This ensured the preservation of the native structure, crucial for the film-forming properties of the biopolyester.

“We believe our work will inspire the development of other biopolyester-based materials for distinct applications from clinical to standard daily usage items”, says Cristina Silva Pereira who coordinated the study. “In fact, for this new suberin we hope to witness the development of antimicrobial materials for clinical usage”, she adds. This hope stems also from the known suberin biocompatibility and the circumstantial evidence of its skin regeneration properties.


Original Article

Biomacromolecules, Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/bm500201s

Ex-situ reconstitution of the plant biopolyester suberin as a film

Helga Garcia, Rui Ferreira, Celso Martins, Andreia F. Sousa, Carmen S. R.Freire, Armando J. D. Silvestre, Werner Kunz, Luís Paulo N. Rebelo and Cristina da Silva Pereira


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