Smooth as silk. Warm as wool; ______ as wheat gluten. Marketing specialists may be challenged to fill in that blank in the future, now that scientists in Nebraska report the first successful production of high-quality fibers from wheat gluten, that grain's major protein.
In an article scheduled for the Feb. 12, issue of ACS' Biomacromolecules, a monthly journal, they describe the new fibers as having mechanical properties similar to wool. Some of the properties of wheat gluten fibers also are superior to soy protein and casein materials intended for biomedical applications, the report states.
Wheat gluten fibers would have a major cost advantage over both wool and silk, the two existing commercial natural protein fibers, according to the researchers. While wool sells for about $5-$8 per pound, and silk for $10-$14 per pound, wheat gluten fetches less than 50 cents per pound and huge quantities are available worldwide.
The report describes recent efforts to produce commercial quantities of fiber from milk, corn, peanut and other proteins.
"Unfortunately, none of these attempts have been commercially successful to produce 100 percent protein fibers mainly due to the high cost and poor quality of the fibers," the report adds. It includes a description of the properties of wheat gluten fibers and images of fiber strands.
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