Recent reports highlighted several novel applications for the Bombyx mori silk fibroin (SF), as edible coatings for the preservation of food freshness, smart labels, or packaging materials. This study complements these reports and additionally describes the colorimetric sensing properties of the natural protein that could be explored to enhance the practical value of such applications. Our data show that in response to pH changes, reconstituted SF is able to undergo visible color changes that correlate with the intensity of the stimuli, regardless of its physical format or physical cross-linking state. The intensity of the developed color was proportional to the extent of the protein’s hydrolytic degradation. We also found that these pH-driven color changes were reversible and interchangeable, with colorless samples at neutral pH, purple in acidic environments, and yellow under basic conditions. Our mechanistic studies identified tryptophan as being responsible for these colorimetric responses, which could be further intensified by the presence of ionized tyrosine functionalities. In addition, we determined that SF’s sensing properties also applied to ultraviolet light exposure. Finally, we showed that the innate sensing capabilities of activated SF can be enhanced via the covalent incorporation of additional tryptophan into the protein. Overall, our results further support the utility of SF for sensing applications.
- environmental sensing
- silk fibroin