In this project, we exploit the potential environmental application of protein-based block copolymers based on elastin-like protein (ELP) sequences. Triblock copolymers containing charged and hydrophobic segments were synthesized. Chain lengths of each segment were manipulated in order to maintain a gelation point below room-temeperature. Polyhistidine sequences were successfully incoporated into the hydrophilic segment without disruption of the self-assembled hydrogel formation. The microscopic structure was investigated by Laser Confocal Microscopy to evaluate the robustness of gel formation under different conditions.
The metal binding capability and capacity of resulting hydrogel was studied to demonstrate the functionality of polyhistidine and potential application of this genetically engineered hydrogel as a permeable barrier material for underground water treatment. Reversibility of metal binding was demonstrated, indicating the cost-effectiveness of this hydrogel barrier system.