Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. — Scientists from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center, known as DEVCOM CBC, are partnering with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to continue research on the biomanufacturing of melanin — one of the first projects in the Biomanufacturing Modernization Initiative. Melanin is a substance that produces pigmentation in most organisms. In humans, melanin is responsible for the coloring of skin, eyes and hair.
Center research chemical engineer, Dr. Anna Crumbley, is a principal investigator for this project. Crumbley explains the purpose of this work is to scale up a microorganism that has been established as a strong producer of melanin based on collaborator testing.
Under the center’s Biomanufacturing Modernization Initiative, researchers are looking to develop new materials using synthetic biology to enhance capabilities and support supply chains.
At the center, the process of biomanufacturing melanin is completed in batches. First, scientists perform a fermentation process and produce a broth with microorganisms, melanin and waste byproducts. The broth is filtered to collect the organisms, which contain the concentrated melanin particles. Next, the organisms are broken open and filtered a second time to isolate the melanin material. Lastly, collected material is dried to produce a melanin product ready for materials development and testing.
Currently, the scientists are exploring the use of spray drying as the final drying method. Spray drying involves the creation of tiny wet droplets of material inside a hot column of air. The water rapidly evaporates and leaves behind only the tiny particles, which fall to the bottom of the column. At the end of the process the material is collected in its dried solid state.
Melanin produced by this method could be of use for both the warfighter and the American public for various applications such as an alternative to sunscreen, improving battery performance and bio electronics.
“The DEVCOM Chemical Biological Center’s role in this project is to develop a scalable process and produce the material at pilot-scale. This effort is important to getting synthetic biology-based DoD initiatives out of the lab and into the materials testing arena. We want to demonstrate that biology is a viable path forward for new materials development, and we look forward to continuing to support the pilot-scale production of novel biomaterials and drop-in biochemical efforts in the future,” said Crumbley.
Scientists’ next steps include sending melanin material to Air Force and Navy collaborators for material applications testing. The test groups will evaluate the performance of the material and its ability to support the warfighter during missions. DEVCOM CBC has submitted a provisional patent application for the novel melanin recovery process developed during this work.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Chemical Biological Center (CBC) is aligned under the U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC) and U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM.)
AFC provides Army modernization solutions (integrated concepts, organizational designs, and technologies) in order to allow the Joint Force, employing Army capabilities, to achieve overmatch in the future operation environment. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of AFC. DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development, and delivery of technology-based capabilities to enable Soldiers to win our nation’s wars and come home safely. DEVCOM CBC is the Army’s principal research and development center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering, and field operations. DEVCOM CBC is headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.