March 3, 2010
Artificial Bee Silk Closer To Reality
CSIRO scientist Dr Tara Sutherland and her team have achieved another important milestone in the international quest to artificially produce insect silk.
They have hand-drawn fine threads of honeybee silk from a "Ësoup' of silk proteins that they had produced transgenically.
"It means that we can now seriously consider the uses to which these biomimetic materials can be put," Dr Sutherland said.
"We used recombinant cells of bacterium E. coli to produce the silk proteins which, under the right conditions, self-assembled into similar structures to those in honeybee silk.
"We already knew that honeybee silk fibers could be hand-drawn from the contents of the silk gland so used this knowledge to hand-draw fibers from a sufficiently concentrated and viscous mixture of the recombinant silk proteins.
"In fact, we had to draw them twice to produce a translucent stable fiber."
Dr Sutherland said numerous efforts have been made to express other invertebrate silks in transgenic systems but the complicated structure of the silk genes in other organisms means that producing silk outside silk glands is very difficult.
"We had previously identified the honeybee silk genes and knew that that the silk was encoded by four small non-repetitive genes "“ a much simpler arrangement which made them excellent candidates for transgenic silk production."
Possible practical uses for these silks would be tough, lightweight textiles, high-strength applications such as advanced composites for use in aviation and marine environments, and medical applications such as sutures, artificial tendons and ligaments.
Sarah Weisman, Victoria S Haritos, Jeffrey S Church, Mickey G Huson, Stephen T Mudie, Andrew JW Rodgers, Geoff J Dumsday and Tara D Sutherland. 2010. Honeybee silk: Recombinant protein production, assembly and fiber spinning. doi:10.1016/j.biomaterials.2009.12.021
Image Caption: Honeybee larvae produce silk to reinforce the wax cells in which they pupate and now CSIRO scientists have produced this silk artificially. Photo: Nick Pitsas/CSIRO
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