Singaporean scientists turn durian husks into bandages

Soft yellow durian flesh inside a prickly green husk at a store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Mohd Rasfan | AFP | Getty Images

Some love it, while others hate it.

Durians are banned on public transport in Singapore due to their smell, which some have compared to sewage or smelly socks. Some hotels in Southeast Asia even forbid their guests to bring fruit to their rooms.

However, some durian lovers are willing to pay big bucks for the “king of fruits” – with someone reportedly parted ways with a whopping $ 48,000 for one in 2019.

But there may be a new reason to appreciate the prickly fruit.

Scientists in Singapore are using durian husks to create antibacterial dressings that they say can heal postoperative wounds.

Repurposed skins

As long as Singaporeans continue to eat durians, we can make these dressings.

William Chen

Research Fellow, Nanyang Technological University

Twitter erupted with questions, and many focused on one thing: the pungent smell of the fruit.

Some wondered if the pungent smell of durian can be found on bandages, or if owners are prohibited from using public buses

Chen insisted that the dressings be odorless.

Others joked about this, with one irony saying that it was no wonder durian patches can kill bacteria

Despite the backlash, the researchers say the innovation could help solve a serious environmental problem: food waste.

“This is due to our commitment to developing innovation to reduce food waste in general,” said William Chen, director of NTU’s food science and technology program and lead scientist behind innovation.

Professor William Chen and a member of his team are experimenting with durian husks.

NTU Singapore

At least one durian salesperson is excited about the prospect.

“This invention … is a fantastic way to recycle the husk,” James Wong, who sells durians in Singapore, told CNBC. He said the durian peel is currently being thrown away and he pays waste disposal companies to clean it up. “It’s much better to be able to sell husk to get money.”

80% of fetal weight

Chen told CNBC that food in Singapore is relatively cheap as it is heavily subsidized by the government.

“The downside to this affordable and plentiful food is that we don’t really appreciate it,” he said.

Scientists at Nanyang University of Technology have developed a hydrogel dressing made from recycled durian husk.

NTU Singapore

To mitigate the problem of food waste, Chen decided to experiment with durian hulls, a material commonly thrown away after eating the soft, yellow pulp of fruit. The husk accounts for about 80% of the weight of the fruit.

The researcher said that durian was chosen as a fruit for several reasons.

Large fruits like durians give scientists the volume they need to work. They also have a high fiber content, making them process-compatible.

The presence of durians also played a role, Chen said.

“Singapore consumes 12 million durians a year,” he said. “As long as Singaporeans continue to eat durians, we can make these dressings.”

Advantages and disadvantages

Durian husk bandages are good for both the environment and medical reasons, Chen said. Unlike existing patches, the new patches contain hydrogels that protect wounds and keep them moist.

Some medical experts are also familiar with the innovation.

“Hydrogel dressings made from durian husk have performed as well as those on the market,” said Assistant Professor Andrew Tan, an expert on metabolic disorders at NTU School of Medicine, who is not involved in the dressing project.

The hydrogel provides moisture that helps remove infected tissue and promotes healing, he said, adding that “hydrogels can also cool the wound, which helps relieve pain.”

People line up for durian in Singapore on June 24, 2021.

Suhaimi Abdullah | NurPhoto | Getty Images

“I have always believed that nature has the answers to all questions,” said Priyadarshani Kamat, a homeopath in Singapore. “I’ve seen in the past how potato peel dressings help burn victims quickly regenerate their skin, and that [durian] the hydrogel is like this. ”

Durian bandages are not meant to replace all bandages – at least not yet. Tan pointed out that they are not suitable for severe wounds, as they are mostly made up of water.

They are also not 100% biodegradable. Although the team was able to replace the soft cushioning layer with durian hydrogel, Chen said the outer adhesive is still made of plastic.

However, Chen and his team hope to bring durian husk bandages to market within the next two years.

When I snack on durian, I feel a little better because I know the husk can be used for a good cause.

Xin Yi Lin

Singapore student

“I want to turn research into something useful to society,” Chen told CNBC.

He added that such innovations should not replace the need to produce less waste. “We do not want these innovations to lead to a fight against growing waste – the idea is to reduce it at the source,” he said.

After hearing about Chen’s research, one lover of durian felt better after eating this fruit.

“I know that durian husks, especially during durian season, generate a lot of waste,” said Singaporean student Xin Yi Lin, a self-proclaimed durian fanatic. “I feel a little better when I eat durians because I know the husks can be used for good.”

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