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Highlights in Chemical Science

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Making the most of apricot and cashew nut leftovers

16 October 2006

Apricot and cashew nut by-products can be used as renewable feedstocks to make nanomaterials, say researchers in the US. 

George John and Praveen Kumar Vemula from the City College of the City University of New York, US, have used plant-derived resources to make a variety of soft nanomaterials, which are useful for a wide variety of applications.

John started with amygdalin, a by-product from the apricot industry and used an enzyme catalysis route to make amphiphiles - molecules with both hydrophilic and hydrophobic parts - that have very effective gelation properties, even before purification. John used the hydrogel formed from these amphiphiles as a successful drug delivery vehicle for curcumin, a well-known drug with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. 'Enzyme catalysis was used as a tool to make and break the hydrogels, which triggered controlled drug delivery,' said John.




John also used cashew nut liquid, another industrial by-product, to synthesise cardanol-based glycolipids. These could be self-assembled to generate a variety of soft nanomaterials, such as helical fibres and tubes, gels and liquid crystals. John said the nanomaterials have a wide range of applications, such as smart gels for sensing, electro-optical displays, lubrication industry, cosmetic formulations, biomedical applications and oil recovery.

'Developing soft nanomaterials and fuel from renewable resources will have direct impact on industrial applications, and will create economically viable alternatives,' he said. 

Bert Fraser-Reid, president and director of Natural Products and Glycotechnology Research Institute, Pittsboro, US, said the work 'powerfully blends organic, green and supramolecular chemistries to obtain drug-delivery vehicles and nanomaterials from the "uninteresting" parts of apricots and cashew nuts.' 

'I wonder how many other surrogates for petroleum feed stocks lie unexplored in the discarded parts of our everyday foods,' he added. 

Ruth Needham


G John and P K Vemula, Soft Matter, 2006 
DOI: 10.1039/b609422h