New York: Bioplastics made from protein sources such as albumin or egg white and whey show significant anti-bacterial properties, says a new study.
The findings may eventually lead to their use in plastics used in medical applications such as wound healing dressings, sutures, catheter tubes and drug delivery.
The bioplastic materials could also be used for food packaging, said the study published online in the Journal of Applied Polymer Science.
Researchers at the University of Georgia tested three non-traditional bioplastic materials - albumin, whey and soy proteins - as alternatives to conventional petroleum-based plastics that pose risks of contamination.
In particular, albumin, a protein found in egg whites, demonstrated tremendous anti-bacterial properties when blended with a traditional plasticiser such as glycerol.
"It was found that it had complete inhibition, as in no bacteria would grow on the plastic once applied. The bacteria wouldn't be able to live on it," said Alex Jones, one of the researchers.
The researchers aim to find ways to reduce the amount of petroleum used in traditional plastic production apart from finding a fully bio-degradable bioplastic.
The albumin-glycerol blended bioplastic met both standards.
"If you put it in a landfill, this being pure protein, it will break down," Jones said.
"If you put it in soil for a month - at most two months - these plastics will disappear," he added.
The next step in the research involves a deeper analysis of the albumin-based bioplastic's potential for use in the biomedical and food packaging fields.
In addition to the risk of contamination in hospitals, food contamination as a result of traditional plastics is a notable risk.
Researchers are encouraged by the anti-microbial properties of albumin-based bioplastics that could potentially reduce these risks through drug elution - loading the bioplastic with either drugs or food preservatives that can kill bacteria or prevent it from spreading.