Engineered silk using synthetic biology tailors fashion

May 30, 2023 | Biology

Using the distinct mechanical properties of spider silk from its large and repetitive protein sequence, scientists from the Washington University in St. Louis created a synthetic spider silk while retaining its strength and toughness using mussel proteins.

This method of fabricating the synthetic spider silk gives rise to a novel, sustainable clothing production. Through engineering recombinant spider silk using bacteria, the researchers got critical about getting higher yields if synthetic silk is to be used for daily applications, specifically in the fashion industry. This effort was to alleviate environmental impacts from waste produced by garment manufacturing and production and to have a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional textiles.

Alongside engineered mussel foot protein fragments, the team created spider silk fusion proteins called b-terminal Mfp fused silks (btMSilks). Specialized proteins secreted by mussels are engineered to be adhesives or cohesive for biomedical applications. 

Odoo text and image block
Odoo image and text block

In promoting molecular interaction, they looked for disordered proteins that can be genetically fused with silk fragments which allows the strong fibers to be made without the need for large repetitive proteins.Through the microbial production of btMSilks, the fibers have an eightfold higher yield (per 1 liter of bacterial culture equates to 8 grams of fiber material), improved strength and toughness, and are featherweight compared to recombinant silk proteins.

With these results, synthetic biology offers a wide array of applications to be explored. The versatility of this field allows for the cutting and pasting of sequences from different natural proteins and testing it in labs for the emergence of new designs, properties and functions. 

 The team aims to fine tune the properties of their synthetic silk fibers in order to meet the commercialized and specialized needs of the market.

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