US food scientists have found a way to make biodegradable packaging material from a protein extracted from corn. Researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, turned 'zein' -- left over when corn is turned into ethanol -- into plasticised resins by melting it down with fatty acids. It is then moulded into plates, sandwich containers, and trays. The plasticised zein can degrade naturally, slowly releasing nitrogen into the soil. The researchers are working on making flexible wrapping material from zein, which is now being used to make specialist coatings for pharmaceutical tablets and dried fruits ( Chemistry and Industry , June 1997).
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