Seminar - "Regenerating Nature's Smart Fabric" by Julie-Anne Gandier, PhD Candidate, Dept. of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, University of Toronto

Friday, October 7, 2016 2:00 pm - 2:00 pm EDT

ABSTRACT:  While we have isolated and regenerated celluloses for textile applications since the turn of the century (e.g. viscose), nature continues to offer new insights into how we could reintegrate biodiversity and heterogeneity into cellulose-based materials as a means of modulating its physico-chemical properties. Cellulose is one of the most abundant organic polymers on earth and serves as an important structural component of the cell walls of plants. It is important to recall, however, that these organisms do not live in isolation: they are responsive to their environments and have complex relationships with a multitude of organisms from across the tree of life. Similarly cellulose itself does not function or exist in isolation. A number of proteins, both catalytic and non-catalytic, are associated with cell-wall constituents. The plant itself can produce these proteins, for instance to mediate cell-wall expansion during growth, or they can be secreted by surrounding organisms to play roles such as compatibilizing the plant’s surface for fungal colonization. By recognizing the importance of and studying the proteins that modulate cellulose properties in nature, we can begin to engineer means of applying them to the regenerated cellulose industry to move toward the production of “smart” textiles that, like plants, are responsive and tuneable to external stimuli such as stress, temperature, moisture, and pH.

Fungal hydrophobins are a prime example of a protein family that offers this biotechnological potential. Secreted into the environment, members of this family self-assemble at interfaces to form highly stable films that reverse the wettability of surfaces. These assemblies have been found to be amyloid-like and highly stable, capable of resisting boiling, shear, and acidic conditions. Furthermore, they retain their ability to self-assemble in ionic liquids. In this talk I will describe the methodologies I have developed for the application-driven identification and characterization of hydrophobins. I will then describe how these methodologies can be applied to other non-catalytic proteins with potential including the hydrophobin-like cerato-platanins, fungal swollenins, and plant expansions. By assembling on dissolved pulp, I propose these proteins can be used to modify subsequent regenerated celluloses, which, in the case of textiles, could confer higher elasticity, moisture absorbency, and fire resistance to the fibre.

Speaker biography: 

I began my academic journey as an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa in the biotechnology program earning both a BSc. in Honours Biochemistry and BASc. in Chemical Engineering (2010). I continued to pursue my interest in working at the interface of these disciplines through graduate work in the Bioproducts group of Prof. Emma Master (University of Toronto) where I established the field of hydrophobin study in Canada. During my time as a doctoral candidate, I held both a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship and W. Garfield Weston Fellowship. These allowed me to follow my research questions not only across disciplinary boundaries to include fibre arts, such as hand spinning, music, and philosophy, but also across geographical borders. I was a visiting scholar at both the University of Helsinki and Aalto University (Finland). The culmination of my doctoral work is with a diverse international group of colleagues in Canada and Nordic Europe. I intend to extend this network as I expand my protein-based research program and pursue its applications in the world of plant biopolymer-based textiles.