Synthetic Spider Silk
A study published in Nature Chemical Biology describes an efficient way to produce artificial spider silk or Synthetic Spider Silk, which scientists believe could be used for biomedical applications, such as repairing wounds and controlling bleeding. Formerly, the complexity and size of the proteins used by spiders to spin silk has presented challenges for scientists attempting to replicate the natural process for mass production.
The new method involves the creation of a bioengineered hybrid protein from two different spider species and a device that mimics the silk duct of a spider. One liter of the new silk solution can produce a kilometer of spider silk, according to the study. However, the spinning process is slow and would need to be scaled up if production was to be commercially viable.
It has long been known that certain fibers produced in nature possess remarkable mechanical properties in terms of strength, resilience and flexibility. These protein based fibers, exemplified by spider silk, have been the subject of much interest due to spider silk’s incredible toughness. The production of spider silk in commercial quantities holds the potential of a life-saving ballistic resistant material, which is lighter, thinner, more flexible, and tougher than steel. Other applications of spider silk include use as structural material and for any application in which light weight and high strength are required.
Spider Silk Technology
While scientists have been able to replicate the proteins that are the building blocks of spider silk, two technological barriers have (until now) stymied production. These barriers are the inability to form these proteins into a spider silk fiber with the desired mechanical characteristics, and to do this cost effectively.
To solve these problems, Kraig Biocraft Laboratories invented a new technology and acquired the exclusive right to use the patented genetic sequences for numerous fundamental spider silk proteins. We have placed ourselves in an advanced position by working collaboratively with the leading universities which developed some of the most relevant genetic engineering technologies. In fact, most of our genetic engineering work takes place inside university laboratories.
Kraig applied their proprietary genetic engineering spider silk technology to an organism which is already one of the most efficient commercial producers of silk: The domesticated silkworm.
Genetically Engineered Spider Silk and Synthetic Spider Silk
We use the term genetically engineered spider silk instead of synthetic spider silk because these materials are not synthetic; they are made by genetically engineered silkworms and the fiber is composed entirely of protein produced naturally by the silkworm. They are synthetic spider silks only in the sense that they are not being produced by a spider, but by a much more efficient organism.
Our third line of products, which we refer to as “Gen 3 technical and medical fiber,” is designed to move beyond the physical, mechanical and chemical properties of natural spider silk. Gen 3 fibers are in a relatively early stage of development and will incorporate such elements as antibacterial agents for medical use, and metallic ions for use in industrial processes.
Collaboration with The University of Notre Dame
Kraig continues a collaborative research and development effort with The University of Notre Dame. This has resulted in a number of exciting spider silk technological breakthroughs. Those breakthroughs include the development of numerous strains of transgenic silkworm which produce genetically engineered spider silk. Some of our work is reviewed and described in the prestigious peer reviewed science journal PNAS (the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences).