Scientist makes fibers in a bottle

Justin Barone develops synthetic fibers that could eventually be used to create artificial limbs.

Justin Barone develops synthetic fibers that could eventually be used to create artificial limbs.

Justin Barone may just be a modern-day alchemist.

But instead of turning ordinary metals into gold, he makes synthetic fibers that reproduce according to a genetic code embedded in their DNA.

“We live in a world today where we’re not stuck with what nature gave us,” said Barone, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, whose new lab is bathed with natural light.

Knowing the genetic recipe of a fiber allows Barone to control its shape and how much its proteins should interact with each other. He can then create fibers that are stronger and tougher or more pliable.

The larger lab space will help garner interest from industry for Barone’s other research endeavors that use keratin products like chicken feathers, animal hooves, and corn and soybeans to make biodegradable plastics.

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