Huang SC(1), Fan RX(1), Tian KK(1), Xia XX(1), Qian ZG(1). Author information:
(1)State Key Laboratory of Microbial Metabolism, Joint International Research
Laboratory of Metabolic & Developmental Sciences, and School of Life Sciences
and Biotechnology, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 800 Dongchuan Road, Shanghai
200240, People's Republic of China.
Rubberlike protein hydrogels are unique in their remarkable stretchability and resilience but are usually low in strength due to the largely unstructured nature of the constitutive protein chains, which limits their applications. Thus, reinforcing protein hydrogels while retaining their rubberlike properties is of great interest and has remained difficult to achieve. Here, we propose a fibrillization strategy to reinforce hydrogels from engineered protein copolymers with photo-cross-linkable resilin-like blocks and fibrillizable silklike blocks. First, the designer copolymers with an increased ratio of the silk to resilin blocks were photochemically cross-linked into rubberlike hydrogels with reinforced mechanical properties. The increased silk-to-resilin ratio also enabled self-assembly of the resulting copolymers into fibrils in a time-dependent manner. This allowed controllable fibrillization of the copolymer solutions at the supramolecular level for subsequent photo-cross-linking into reinforced hydrogels. Alternatively, the as-prepared chemically cross-linked hydrogels could be reinforced at the material level by inducing fibrillization of the constitutive protein chains. Finally, we demonstrated the advantage of reinforcing these hydrogels for use as piezoresistive sensors to achieve an expanded pressure detection range. We anticipate that this strategy may provide intriguing opportunities to generate robust rubberlike biomaterials for broad applications.
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