Manufacturing High Performance Wearable De Novo Polypeptide Fabrics

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Chemistry


High performance fibres and synthetic textiles are used in large quantities in both industrial and consumer products. They are produced from petrochemical sources and are rarely biodegradable. Whilst some are in principle recyclable, laundry operations lead to uncontrolled release of microplastic pollution into the environment, including the oceans. Natural fibres, such as cotton, make significant demands on land and water use, and have limited mechanical properties. This project will develop an entirely new approach to manufacturing fibres by spinning them from designer proteins grown by microbial fermentation. The resulting materials will be sustainable, biodegradable, and re-processible.
Proteins are large natural molecules built out of exact sequences of amino acids; they play essential structural and functional roles in all known life forms. The specific atomic structures mean that the protein chain folds into a precise and unique 3D shape, rather like a 3D jigsaw puzzle. The size and shape of proteins is much better defined than any conventional polymer (manmade plastic). It is these different shapes that give proteins their individual functions. Recent advances in computational protein design allow specific architectures to be designed deliberately. In combination with improved methods to produce large quantities of these proteins, it is now possible to imagine designing bulk macromolecular materials, with much greater accuracy than existing products. Nature makes effective use of intermediate length scales between individual molecules and extended structures big enough to see. Currently, our synthetic materials are poorly controlled in this range. By designing specific protein sequences, we can create self-organising units that simplify both protein production and the process of spinning useful fibres. These units automatically align and pack, increasing mechanical performance, whilst retaining the attractive features of natural protein fibres, which make them so comfortable to wear. Existing attempts to develop this idea have used versions of natural proteins that are extremely difficult to convert into high quality textiles, using conventional bulk manufacturing processes. This project uses newly designed motifs, created from first principles, in order to resolve the crucial obstacles at each step of the supply chain from fermentation, through fibre spinning, to textile conversion. The project will demonstrate the scalability of each step, and produce physical fabric samples. This demonstration, together with key data on production yields and textile performance, will underpin further investment in this revolutionary technology, within the UK. Crucially, the technology will disrupt with existing textile supply chains, allowing new environmentally sound local production. This highly interdisciplinary project will bring together structural biology, synthetic biology, computational protein design, and materials science to create a paradigm shift in fabric manufacturing.


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Description A range of new protein sequences were designed, expressed, and testing for their suitable for fibre spinning. The most successful sequences were spun continuously into robust textile fibres. The success of the project attracted significant inward investment, leading the launch of a new spin out company aiming to develop these materials towards products.
Exploitation Route The company aims to release sustainable new materials for widespread application in textiles
Sectors Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Retail

Description The findings underpinned the founding of a significant spin out company
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Description Prozomix 
Organisation Prozomix Ltd.
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution New protein product targets
Collaborator Contribution Development of the synthesis and purification protocols
Impact Confidential at this stage
Start Year 2020
Description The present invention provides synthetic fibres with advantageous properties such as high tensile strength and which can be produced by recombinant biotechnological means. The invention also provides the constituent components from which the fibres are assembled, along with fabrics formed from the synthetic fibres. Items comprising the fibres and fabrics of the invention are also included. 
IP Reference WO2019175591 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2019
Licensed No
Impact Confidential at present
Company Name Solena Materials Ltd 
Description Solena is a protein materials design company. It uses world-leading computational design, machine learning, and automation to accelerate the development of bespoke materials targeted at multiple sectors, from fashion apparel to medical textiles. New protein-based fibres will replace materials extracted from nature such as silk and petrochemically-derived materials, to create a new world of biodegradable, functional and sustainable smart materials for consumers, industry, and the planet. 
Year Established 2021 
Impact Significant investment creating ~10 jobs