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Cecília Roque, head of the Biomolecular Engineering Lab at UCIBIO-FCT NOVA, has just published a new research publication that reports the development of a new class of environmentally-friendly gas sensing materials made of suberin from cork and a nematic liquid crystal. This research work, published in Materials Today Bio Journal, resulted from a collaboration between Cecília Roque and Cristina Silva Pereira from ITQB NOVA, both funded by ERC grants at Universidade NOVA de Lisboa.


When we smell, volatile compounds bind to specialized olfactory proteins that we have in the nose, which triggers electrical signals that are sent to the brain. Electronic noses are intelligent gas sensing devices used in artificial olfaction that mimic the sense of smell, mirroring the biological orchestra of olfactory proteins and the intricate brain computing processes used in odor recognition, by a combination of chemical sensors and artificial intelligence. Through the combination of suberin polymers and liquid crystals such as those found on mobile phone LCDs, it was possible to create materials that can respond to various odors.


Suberin, a biopolyester, is present in plant cell walls, acting as a protective layer against pathogens and external physical aggressions found in specialized plant cell walls, for example in cork, potato skin or tomato skin. The research team at ITQB NOVA clarified the 3D structure and discovered determining characteristics of this green polymer, such as its ability to have antibacterial action. “This molecule has characteristics that make it unique and versatile in the development of alternative materials, for example the synthesis of bioplastics. Its use in olfactory sensors was made possible through the collaboration with Cecília Roque's team”, explains Cristina Silva Pereira.


Cecília Roque and her research team have introduced a new concept of environmentally-friendly gas sensors based on biobased materials, such as gelatin, in combination with liquid crystals. The Biomolecular Engineering Lab also developed a prototype of an electronic nose that collects and processes the signals obtained, through artificial intelligence algorithms. When the system is exposed to an unknown sample, it can accurately identify the odor. “Our goal is to design smart functional materials that are also sustainable. The collaboration with Cristina Silva Pereira’s lab was great, because together we had the idea of using cork as a new source of gas sensors”, says Cecília Roque.


Thus, the new electronic noses open up the way for the new generation of environmentally friendly and low-cost chemical detection materials, which can be a promising alternative in the near future.


Graphical abstract



Original article:

Sustainable plant polyesters as substrates for optical gas sensors

Rúben Rodrigues, Susana I. C. J. Palma, Vanessa G. Correia, Inês Padrão, Joana Pais, Marta Banza, Cláudia Alves, Jonas Deuermeier, Celso Martins, Henrique M. A. Costa, Efthymia Ramou, Cristina Silva Pereira, Ana Cecília A. Roque

Materials Today Bio, DOI: 10.1016/j.mtbio.2020.100083


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