BBNet funds awarded

POC 13: Carpet beetle enzymes for sustainable valorisation of keratin

Project lead
Federico Sabbadin
Institute
University of York

Keratin is an abundant structural protein that forms the bulk of hair, fur, feathers, hooves, horns and scales in animals. Over 65 million tons of keratin waste are generated each year from the food and textile industry, and they represent a cheap and plentiful source of building blocks (peptides and amino acids) for the production of fertilisers, food supplements, biogas, biodegradable food packaging, composite materials and textiles.

Keratins are stabilised by abundant inter and intra-chain disulphide bonds, as well as hydrogen, hydrophobic and ionic bonds that confer high resistance to acids, alkaline reagents, organic solvents and conventional proteases. Due to its high recalcitrance to degradation, most keratin is simply buried in landfills or incinerated, leading to land pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Keratin waste thus represents a major hazard to both the environment and human health.

Until now, keratin deconstruction has been achieved mainly through harsh physico-chemical treatments (requiring high temperature and pressure, toxic chemicals and solvents) that are not environmentally friendly and are not compatible with a circular, sustainable bioeconomy. Here we propose to use a multidisciplinary approach to identify keratin-degrading enzymes produced by carpet beetles, which have naturally evolved to digest keratin. This project will produce carpet beetle keratinases in pure form, test their ability to deconstruct wool and feathers, and pave the way to the creation of efficient keratin-degrading enzyme cocktails for industry.

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