We’ve asked tiny nanostructures to thwart counterfeiters, heal wounds, and boost computing power. Now, we want to eat them. Researchers have made “all-natural metal-organic frameworks”–and hope their creations’ edible frames may find use storing small molecules in foods and medical devices.
Though researchers have made similar metal-organic frameworks since 1999, most of the structures require chemicals from crude oil. As described in a recently published Angewandte Chemie paper, this team has devised a cheaper method employing starch molecules leftover from corn production.
The trick was to make a substance crystallize as a highly ordered, symmetrical, porous framework. Getting tiny symmetrical structures from asymmetrical natural ingredients had seemed unlikely, but the team found the perfect molecule cages, using a special type of sugar (gamma-cyclodextrin) from the cornstarch and potassium salt. After dissolving gamma-cyclodextrin and potassium salt in water, they crystallized them to form the nano storage cubes.
Despite the sugar and salt combo, the nanostructures are not that tasty, team member Ronald Smaldone says in a press release:
“They taste kind of bitter, like a Saltine cracker, starchy and bland…. But the beauty is that all the starting materials are nontoxic, biorenewable and widely available…”
We also can’t imagine they’re that filling.
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Image: flickr / Kerrie Longo