Written by: Ariyana Rayatt

Edited by: Natasha Barrow & Caroline Babisz

What does skin regeneration and a takeaway box have in common? 

The use of biomaterials… 

Whilst biomaterials are entering an exciting era within regenerative medicine, it has become clear the translation of principles across industries has opened the door for biomaterials to heal the planet. In this article we showcase creative interpretations of a biomaterial and their range of potential applications in a strive towards more sustainable products. 

Biomaterials, traditionally used in medical applications to develop regenerative tissues, are now a solution to reduce reliance on animal and petrochemical-derived materials. With the pressure of the climate emergency, there is now more consideration of a product’s life cycle and environmental impact, leading to innovations such as seaweed packaging, cellulose shoes, and lab-grown meat. All of which have been labelled as biomaterials. 

What are biomaterials? 

According to the National Institute of Health, a biomaterial is “any matter, surface or construct that interacts with biological systems [and] can be derived from nature or synthesised in the laboratory” [1]. 

Initially, the nature of these materials was inert, offering structural support as an implant. This is no longer the case, with progression in the medical field leading to the understanding that cells can populate a biomaterial and support the regeneration of tissue by mimicking an environment and framework conducive to tissue repair [2]. 

How do biomaterials offer the world a sustainable future? 

Human activity has caused environmental changes that have disrupted our planet’s ecosystem. A few of the challenges that we face include plastics, waste and agriculture. 

The development and translation of synthetic biology and bioprocessing from pharmaceuticals, has led to companies tackling these environmental challenges with innovative biomaterials. These materials are solutions for packaging, fashion and agriculture that have a lower environmental impact than those currently on the market. 

The Plight of Plastic

A material which is inescapable, with a catastrophic environmental impact, is plastic. Plastics entered the household first in the 1950s and became integrated into daily routines, from alarm clocks, to packaging and clothes [3]. As plastic-containing products were washed, broken, and discarded, microplastics began shedding into the environment; landfills overflowed and pollutants were released. The impact of this has led to plastic-associated health concerns, and microplastic being found in rain, shellfish and in humans [2, 3, 4]. 

Plastic-Free Packaging

Stepping up to the challenge of plastic packaging, London start-up NotPla, has developed sustainable packaging. They have achieved naturally biodegradable packaging with materials derived from plants. 

Their takeaway boxes are lined with a seaweed coating, offering an alternative to the ubiquitous plastic coating seen across the industry. They are currently the only company producing non-plastic packaging recognised by the Dutch government. 

You may have already experienced some of their products, their takeaway boxes have been seen at football matches. 

Notpia are trailblazers in this field, having been awarded the prestigious Earthshot Prize in 2022 after securing £10 million of series A funding. 

Animal and Petroleum Free Textiles

German biotechnology company, AM Silk produces a range of biomaterials derived from spider silk proteins. These proteins can be formulated into fibres catering for both the textiles and medical industries. 

In 2023, AM Silk closed their series C round with €54 million (£46.3 million).To take their material even further, AM Silk can customise the material properties at a molecular level to be tailored to specific applications. This means that they can produce high-performing fossil-fuel-free textiles.

Another biomaterial start-up, Ecovative, cultivates mycelium to create a range of products from leather alternatives to foams for textiles. 

To fulfil their vision of bringing luxurious textiles to the fashion industry without the negative environmental impact, they are currently focusing on scaling after successfully closing their series E round of funding in 2023 with $30 million (£23.7 million).

The Environmental Demands of Agriculture

Whilst it is well understood that plastics harm the environment, the growing agriculture market also poses environmental threats. 

Between 2001 and 2015, more than 35% of deforestation was due solely to the increased demand for beef  [7]. The demand for meat is set to increase further with the rising global population. Putting this into perspective, the agricultural industry is currently producing over 350 million tonnes of meat each year [8]. To accommodate this new demand there will be an escalation in water usage, deforestation, greenhouse gases and pollution associated with raising agriculture [9]. 

Cultivated Meat

Progress in regenerative medicine has led to cellular agriculture, where meat can be cultured in a laboratory rather than reared. These solutions take a sample from an animal and grow the cells to produce meat, without the death of an animal and with reduced land and water usage compared to traditional agriculture.

Meatable is one of many cellular agriculture companies on a mission to provide a solution to the growing environmental impact of the agricultural industry. Based in Delft, Netherlands, Meatable is a cellular agriculture start-up producing lab-grown pork. In their series B round in 2023, Meatable has raised $35 million (£27.5 million) and with approval from the Singapore Food Agency, Meatable is on track to launch their products in the Singapore market. 











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