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J Biotechnol. 2000 May 26;79(3):211-21.

How to develop globular proteins into adhesives.

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Laboratory of Physical Chemistry, Delft University of Technology, STM, Julianalaan 136, 2628 BL, Delft, The Netherlands.

Erratum in

  • J Biotechnol 2000 Oct 13;83(3):269.


To make globular proteins suitable for application in adhesives, the specific bonds and interactions which shape their structure have to broken. Only then, a layer of relatively large, flexible and interwoven polymer chains, which are firmly attached to the solid surface by adsorption, can be created. Such a network layer is essential to save the adhesive bond under an applied force, because it can distribute the concentration of stresses generated at the interface into the bulk. Unfolding and swelling of a protein can be achieved by changing the solvent quality. For the globular whey protein beta-lactoglobulin, the optimal conditions for unfolding and swelling is found with 98% formic acid as a solvent. In formic acid, beta-lactoglobulin looses its amphoteric character (it is protonated, probably for approximately 20%). In addition, formic acid is less polar than water and thus a better solvent for the apolar parts of the protein. The swelling and unfolding behaviour of beta-lactoglobulin is studied by viscosity and CD-spectroscopy measurements. For the interpretation of the results we apply the Kuhn formalism that the conformation of a protein can be described in terms of a statistical chain which consists of segments of an average persistence length P. The statistical segment length P, which varies with the experimental conditions, is directly related to the adsorption energy required for a strong adhesion between coil and surface. It determines the depletion energy kT P(-2) m(-2) which must be overcome by specific attraction between side groups of the protein chain and the surface. For beta-lactoglobulin in 98% formic acid, we find a P value of approximately 2.2 nm, pointing at a relatively flexible chain. The minimum net adsorption energy kT P(-2) is then approximately 1 mJ m(-2), a relatively small value to be exceeded. Preliminary results of destructive adhesion tests on beech wood lap-shear joints reveal promising tensile strengths of approximately 2.9+/-1.1 N mm(-2), indeed.

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