Salmon Sperm Spawns Plastic, LEDs

December 24, 2021

By Laine Welch

Salmon sperm is being used to make biodegradable plastic cups in China.   [Image at end of column]

Researchers at Tianjin University created the item by extracting DNA from salmon sperm and dissolving it in water with molecules commonly found in adhesives. It produces a gel that can be made into various forms and freeze dried.

The DNA-based bio-plastic can be created from genetic material from any living things, the researchers said. Other applications for the substance include uses in electronics and packaging.

Salmon sperm also made headlines a few years ago for its ability to intensify LED lights that are used today in digital clocks to home lighting and electronics.

Dr. Andrew Steckl, one of the world’s leading experts in photonics at the University of Cincinnati, collaborated with US Air Force scientists to make a first bio-LED device 

Steckl said the magic stems from the double helix shape of salmon DNA.

“The double helix has some interesting properties in regard to light emission which is not well known by the general public but is known by some practitioners,” he explained. “Because of the way it is shaped, you can insert light emitting molecules within it  that operate more efficiently than in other host materials.”  

The sperm comes from wild salmon from Japan, where it is widely harvested for its DNA, Steckl said. In the case of LEDs, it is refined into pure fibers and made into thin films of tightly controlled dimensions that produce light. 

Steckl said the organic material is abundant and readily available for other uses.

“To me it is a powerful argument that we have one of the biggest and most competitive industries in America in agriculture and fishing and it produces a huge amount of biomaterials which can be used in many different ways,” he said, adding that they also reduce the need for heavy metals or other hazardous materials.

“This is not the sort of material that people have a lock on - in other words, it’s not a mine somewhere in some country that produces a particular metal,” he said. “People in the semi-conductor and in flat panel display industries are quite concerned that certain specialty metals that are critical to device fabrication are going to begin to run out. And this is not 100 years from now, this is maybe less than 10 years from now.

Fish grants - NOAA Fisheries/Alaska Region has launched a new webpage dedicated to sharing Alaska Aquaculture Grant Opportunities. The page will provide up-to-date information on funding opportunities for aquaculture stakeholders in many categories. Also included on the new webpage are writing resources to help improve grant applications.


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