BioZone BITS: Bio-plastics and bio-textiles from bacterial protein fibers

September 30, 2021 @ 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Sofia Bonilla

Professor Noémie-Manuelle Dorval Courchesne
Department of Chemical Engineering
McGill University

Protein-based materials represent sustainable and easily customizable alternatives to conventional synthetic polymers. With their biocompatibility, bioactivity and genetic tunability, proteins can be customized for a range of applications. Specifically, protein materials that self-assemble into macromolecular structures and can be produced at large scale are of interest for deployment into wearable devices, tissue scaffolds, and alternatives for commodity materials like plastics, textiles and electronics. Curli fibers produced by Escherichia coli bacteria represent a very promising protein scaffold due to their unique physicochemical properties. Once secreted by bacteria cells, CsgA subunits, the self-assembling repeats of curli fibers, form fibrous structures that can further aggregate and gel into macroscopic materials. Among other functionalities, we have genetically encoded in CsgA the ability to fluoresce, to conduct charges, and to nucleate mineral particles.

In this talk, I will describe advances from our group to engineer curli fibers and confer them with properties relevant for biosensing devices, wearables, and plastic-like (“aquaplastic”) materials. First, I will present methods that we have developed to express and isolate bacterial fiber extracellularly secreted from E. coli cells, and I will show examples of materials (thin films, hydrogels, aerogels, coatings) that we have fabricated with these nanofibers. Then, I will focus on specific applications and proof-of-concept functional devices that we have fabricated. We will discuss bio-functionalized pH-sensing textiles, living adaptive wearable devices, curli-based bioplastics, and protein fibers – polymer composites for conductive biocompatible electrodes.Such devices bring us closer to a bio-based circular economy, and enable novel functions that can only be achieved by biological materials.

Noémie-Manuelle Dorval Courchesne is an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at McGill University since 2017, and a Canada Research Chair in Biologically-Derived Materials since 2021. Previously, she obtained her PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 2015 and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard until 2017. She was trained as a multidisciplinary scientist and engineer, and has worked in the field of biologically-derived materials for over a decade, focusing on the fabrication and characterization of novel functional materials and devices using recombinant proteins. In her research, she integrates synthetic biology with scalable assembly processes, to fabricate functional materials. Prof. Dorval Courchesne is actively involved in industrially-relevant research, with the goal of introducing biologically-derived technologies in real-world products. Among other projects, she has she has an ongoing collaboration with Lululemon Athletica Inc. She is also part of an NSERC CREATE on Sustainable Electronics and Eco-Design (SEED). In addition, Prof. Dorval Courchesne is a member of several research networks including the Quebec Center for Advanced Materials (QCAM) and the Research Center for High Performance Polymer and Composite Systems (CREPEC). In 2020, she was recognized for her research potential as the recipient of the Christopher Pierre Award for Research Excellence (Early Career) at McGill. She was also recently named one of three “Emerging Leaders in Chemical Engineering” at the Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference (CCEC 2020).


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