This incredible silk revelation was discovered like many modern inventions we use today — completely by accident.
The man behind it all is Benedetto Marelli who works as an assistant professor of civil engineering at MIT. When he discovered this marvel, he was a postdoc at Tufts University Omenetto lab.
HOW THE SILK DISCOVERY WAS MADE
The finding came after Marelli was preparing for a lab-wide cooking competition. The prerequisite for the competition was that each person had to use silk in some way, shape or form in their dish.
Marelli was experimenting with dipping strawberries in silk and had accidentally forgotten a silk-dipped strawberry on his bench with some undipped strawberries. When he returned a week later, he found that the silk-dipped strawberry had stayed edible where the other strawberries were completely spoiled.
His previous work was studying the biomedical applications for silk, so this discovery was a complete surprise to him.
He is quoted as saying: “That opened up a new world for me.”
Marelli then viewed this as an opportunity to explore the properties of silk in the food sector, in the issue of food waste prevention.
He decided to partner up with a small group of scientists based in the Boston area.
The scientists included Adam Behrens who was a postdoc in the lab of Institute Professor Robert Langer at the time. Together they formed Cambridge Crops.
On their official website they state: “We’re reducing food waste by keeping food fresher for longer. Naturally.”
HOW IT WORKS
They explain their process as just using salt and water to naturally extract the protein from natural silk and then create a protective layer that keeps food fresher for longer. The applications of this protein can protect “from cherries to salmon and everything in between”.
Cambridge food aims to reduce food waste and the need for waxes, chemicals and fungicides that are regularly used in the food production process.
This process also works on meat products. They ensure the customer that this process can be applied at any stage from “farm to shelf” and that the process will work on whole meats, poultry and all seafoods as well.
They use silk protein to tackle three major reasons why food goes off.
THESE THREE MAIN REASONS ARE:
- Oxidation: They aim to keep the air out of foods to keep the nutrients in as foods decay a lot quicker when exposed to oxygen
- Dehydration: The process focuses on keeping the water in the foods as drying out will cause them to decay a lot faster
- Micro-organisms: The silk proteins protect the foods from bacteria, yeast and mould growing on the surface therefore causing decomposition
Food waste has a huge global impact on social, economic and health sectors and this initiative could curb what is essentially a major problem.
Marelli views technology like silk as an opportunity to “illuminate” many of the issues facing the food industry without actually changing the natural properties of the foods themselves.