Wool fibers were submitted to "green hydrolysis" with superheated water in a microwave reactor, in view of the potential exploitation of keratin-based industrial and stock-farming wastes. The liquid fraction was separated by filtration from the solid fraction, which consists mainly of small fragments of wool fibers and other insoluble protein aggregates. The liquid fraction contains free amino acids, peptides and low molecular weight proteins, with a small amount of cystine and lanthionine, and has a different secondary structure when compared with keratins extracted from wool via reductive or oxidative methods. Cleavage of the cystine disulfide bonds without the use of harmful, often toxic, reductive or oxidative agents allows the extraction of protein material from keratin wastes, offering the possibility of larger exploitation and valorization.
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