By Simone Giaveri: plastic pollution is one of the biggest issues that humanity has to face. Despite many efforts, a long-term solution for a sustainable handling, that is production and disposal, of synthetic polymer-based materials is still needed.
At Prof. F. Stellacci’s lab, we envisioned a new circular-economy model for polymers, where materials are transformed into new materials, not necessarily related to the parent ones. The work was carried out in close collaboration with Prof. S. J. Maerkl.
The idea is based on sequence-defined macromolecules, whose backbone chemical bonds are reversibly cleavable, and on synthesis strategies that do not require the separation of the monomer building blocks. We named this approach to recycling polymers nature-inspired circular-economy recycling (NaCRe). In the lab, we experimentally demonstrated NaCRe for proteins, and protein-based materials, outside any living organism.
We characterized our materials at the molecular level, by using mass spectrometry, at each step of the NaCRe process, and we performed the data analysis by taking advantage of the apm2S software.
The software allowed us to efficiently identify the peptides originated from the enzymatic cleavage of the initial materials, even when broad spectrum endoproteases were used. Moreover, apm2S works with amino acids modifications. We used this tool for the identification of cleaved peptides mainly composed of non-proteinogenic amino acids.
The results were published in Advanced Materials. Read the details here.