Cristina Silva Pereira and colleagues explain that polyesters are ubiquitous in modern life, and not just as a practical fabric for clothing. Their durability and other traits make them ideal for use in cushioning and insulating materials, in liquid crystal displays, holograms, filters, and as a high-gloss finish on guitars and pianos. But making polyester for these products involves a toxic process that starts with the melting of petroleum-based products. To replace these synthetic fibers, scientists have turned to nature. More specifically, to the cork oak tree, which makes its own version of polyester — suberin. Attempts to extract suberin intact from the tree’s bark have so far resulted in pasty blobs, so Silva Pereira’s team decided to find a different way.
They used a new technique to take suberin out of cork and then re-make it in a more useful film form. Although some of the original structure was lost, the resulting plastic-like material was intact enough to keep its waterproof and antibacterial properties. An added perk of the material is that it’s biocompatible, which led the researchers to conclude: “One of the first applications we believe will be implemented is clinical usage.”