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Zein, a major corn protein, is primarily used in specialty coatings,
such as for paper. Now, improved methods of purifying and modifying
zein devised by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists could
usher in new cosmetic and biomedical applications as well.
Zein has been commercially available for more than 60 years. But costly
purification steps necessary to eliminate zein's odor and yellow color
have hampered its widespread commercial use. Chemist David Sessa
examined the problem in studies at the ARS National Center for
Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill.
Based on his findings, which included isolating the primary sources of
zein's color and odor, Sessa devised an improved approach to purifying
the protein and turning it into two types of polymers: hydrogels and
Existing methods of purifying zein use activated carbons (AC), which
are porous, charcoal-like substances that bind to and trap the
compounds responsible for the protein's color and odor. However, these
AC-based methods lose between 37 and 95 percent of the zein in the
process of purifying it. This increases production costs and restricts
zein's broader commercial use.
Sessa's ground-up approach included examining AC alternatives known as
"zeolites," silicate- or clay-based particles whose pores act as
molecular sieves in which zein's color and odor compounds are trapped
during purification. His use of two synthetic zeolites, dubbed types
"A" and "X," increased zein yields by 25 percent during purification.
Two other key innovations included an ultraviolet-light-based method to
monitor zein's deodorization progress, and an algorithm-controlled
system to control zein's directional flow inside specialized columns
where purification occurs.
Sessa envisions several cosmetic and biomedical applications for
zein-based microspheres and hydrogels, including dissolvable drug
capsules and tissue scaffolding. On the food front, zein has potential
as a chewing gum ingredient.
Read more about this research in the November/December 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/
ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Jan Suszkiw, (301) 504-1630, firstname.lastname@example.org
November 20, 2008
--View this report online, plus photos and related stories, at www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr
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