Artificial bee silk a big step closer to reality

Feb 03, 2010
Artificial bee silk a big step closer to reality
Honeybee larvae produce silk to reinforce the wax cells in which they pupate and now CSIRO scientists have produced this silk artificially. Photo: CSIRO

(PhysOrg.com) -- 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 ‘soup’ of silk proteins that they had produced transgenically.

These threads were as strong as threads drawn from the honeybee silk gland, a significant step towards development of coiled coil silk biomaterials.

“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 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 fibres could be hand-drawn from the contents of the silk gland so used this knowledge to hand-draw fibres 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 .”

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 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 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.

Explore further: New, more versatile version of Geckskin: Gecko-like adhesives now useful for real world surfaces

More information: 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

Related Stories

New thread in fabric of insect silks

Sep 10, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The aptly named silk worms long appeared to have the monopoly on insect silk production, but now scientists are revealing that the world of insect silks is highly complex.

Fascinating Spider Silk

Apr 04, 2007

Stronger than steel and more elastic than rubber: spider silk is unsurpassed in its expandability, resistance to tearing, and toughness. Spider silk would be an ideal material for a large variety of medical and technical ...

Stretchy spider silks can be springs or rubber

May 31, 2008

It’s stronger than steel and nylon, and more extensible than Kevlar. So what is this super-tough material? Spider silk; and learning how to spin it is one of the materials industries’ Holy Grails. John Gosline has been ...

Silk-brand chocolate soymilk recalled

Apr 24, 2008

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the voluntary nationwide recall of Silk-brand chocolate flavor soymilk due to a labeling error.

Silk-based optical waveguides meet biomedical needs

Aug 31, 2009

There is a growing need for biocompatible photonic components for biomedical applications - from in vivo glucose monitoring to detecting harmful viruses or the telltale markers of Alzheimer's. Optical waveguides are of ...

Recommended for you

A greener source of polyester—cork trees

Apr 16, 2014

On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...