Researchers have developed artificial spider silk by genetically engineered silkworms.
This research has been published online in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
“This research represents a significant breakthrough in the development of superior silk fibers for both medical and non-medical applications,” Malcolm J. Fraser Jr., a Notre Dame Professor of biological sciences, said in a statement. “The generation of silk fibers having the properties of spider silks has been one of the important goals in materials science.”
Natural spider silks have many of the extra-ordinary physical properties such as higher tensile strength and elasticity than naturally spun silkworm fibers. The spider silks produced artificially through these transgenic silkworms have properties equivalent to that of natural spider silks. Before this research only a small amount of artificial spider silk had ever been produced in the laboratories.
Dr Donald Jarvis, of the University of Wyoming in the United States, said,
Spider silks have enormous potential as biomaterials for various applications, but serious obstacles to spider farming preclude the natural manufacturing approach.
Thus, there is a need to develop an effective biotechnological approach for spider silk fiber production.
In addition to being used as sutures, silk fibers hold great potential as biomaterials for wound dressings, artificial ligaments, tendons, tissue scaffolds, microcapsules, and other applications.
Silkworms are the current biological source of silk sutures, but spider silk fibers have superior mechanical properties that are ideal for procedures requiring finer sutures, such as ocular, neurological, and cosmetic surgeries.
These results demonstrate that silkworms can be engineered to manufacture composite silk fibers containing stably integrated spider silk protein sequences, which significantly improve the overall mechanical properties of the parental silkworm silk fibers.