In many biogenic materials, chitin chains are assembled in fibrils that are wrapped by a protein fold. In them, the mechanical properties are supposed to be related to intra- and inter- interactions among chitin and proteins. This hypothesis has been poorly investigated. Here, this research theme is studied using the pen of Loligo vulgaris as a model material of chitin-protein composites. Chemical treatments were used to change the interactions involving only the proteic phase, through unfolding and/or degradation processes. Successively, structural and mechanical parameters were examined using spectroscopy, microscopy, X-ray diffractometry, and tensile tests. The data analysis showed that chemical treatments did not modify the structure of the chitin matrix. This allowed to derive from the mechanical test analysis the following conclusions: (i) the maximum stress (σmax) relies on the presence of the disulfide bonds; (ii) the Young's modulus (E) relies on the overall correct folding of the proteins; (iii) the whole removal of proteins induces a decrease of E (> 90%) and σmax (> 80%), and an increase in the maximum elongation. These observations indicate that in the chitin matrix the proteins act as a strengthener, which efficacy is controlled by the presence of disulfide bridges. This reinforcement links the chitin fibrils avoiding them to slide one on the other and maximizing their resistance and stiffness. In conclusion, this knowledge can explain the physio-chemical properties of other biogenic polymeric composites and inspire the design of new materials. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: To date, no study has addressed on how proteins influence chitin-composite material's mechanical properties. Here we show that the Young's modulus and the maximum stress mainly rely on protein disulfide bonds, the inter-proteins ones and those controlling the folding of chitin-binding domains. The removal of protein matrix induce a reduction of Young's modulus and maximum stress, leaving the chitin matrix structurally unaltered. The measure of the maximum elongation shows that the chitin fibrils slide on each other only after removing the protein matrix. In conclusion, this research shows that the proteins act as a stiff matrix reinforced by di-sulfide bridges that link crystalline chitin fibrils avoiding them to slide one on the other.

Influence of proteins on mechanical properties of a natural chitin-protein composite

Montroni, Devis
Primo
;
Sparla, Francesca;Fermani, Simona;Falini, Giuseppe
Ultimo
2021

Abstract

In many biogenic materials, chitin chains are assembled in fibrils that are wrapped by a protein fold. In them, the mechanical properties are supposed to be related to intra- and inter- interactions among chitin and proteins. This hypothesis has been poorly investigated. Here, this research theme is studied using the pen of Loligo vulgaris as a model material of chitin-protein composites. Chemical treatments were used to change the interactions involving only the proteic phase, through unfolding and/or degradation processes. Successively, structural and mechanical parameters were examined using spectroscopy, microscopy, X-ray diffractometry, and tensile tests. The data analysis showed that chemical treatments did not modify the structure of the chitin matrix. This allowed to derive from the mechanical test analysis the following conclusions: (i) the maximum stress (σmax) relies on the presence of the disulfide bonds; (ii) the Young's modulus (E) relies on the overall correct folding of the proteins; (iii) the whole removal of proteins induces a decrease of E (> 90%) and σmax (> 80%), and an increase in the maximum elongation. These observations indicate that in the chitin matrix the proteins act as a strengthener, which efficacy is controlled by the presence of disulfide bridges. This reinforcement links the chitin fibrils avoiding them to slide one on the other and maximizing their resistance and stiffness. In conclusion, this knowledge can explain the physio-chemical properties of other biogenic polymeric composites and inspire the design of new materials. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: To date, no study has addressed on how proteins influence chitin-composite material's mechanical properties. Here we show that the Young's modulus and the maximum stress mainly rely on protein disulfide bonds, the inter-proteins ones and those controlling the folding of chitin-binding domains. The removal of protein matrix induce a reduction of Young's modulus and maximum stress, leaving the chitin matrix structurally unaltered. The measure of the maximum elongation shows that the chitin fibrils slide on each other only after removing the protein matrix. In conclusion, this research shows that the proteins act as a stiff matrix reinforced by di-sulfide bridges that link crystalline chitin fibrils avoiding them to slide one on the other.
Montroni, Devis; Sparla, Francesca; Fermani, Simona; Falini, Giuseppe
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11585/789712
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