Spider silk proteins reach industrial applications

Large-scale manufacturing process in the market launch

9 August 2011

Spiders have been populating the earth for around 400 million years and have developed a wide variety of prey capture methods. One of the best known is certainly the spider web. The fibers and webs produced by spiders in the wild have a unique stability and elasticity. In terms of its extremely fine structure, spider silk is as hard as steel and elastic like rubber. For years, scientists have been trying to solve the riddle of the spider silk and to recreate it industrially. AMSilk AG and Prof. Thomas Scheibel have now succeeded in doing this.

Genetically modified bacteria

On the basis of a traditional fermentation process using genetically modified bacteria, spider silk proteins can for the first time be produced in any quantity for a wide variety of applications. Although the industrial production of threads based on spider silk proteins is still being researched, the production of raw material in spheres, membranes, films and foils is already possible. For example, a spider silk film or spider silk sheet can be produced with a diluted silk solution. This new type of production technology makes the targeted modifiability and controllable shaping of silk proteins possible and opens up the use for the first silk products in industry and technology.

But not only in the industrial context there are some exciting applications waiting for spider silk. Because the material is very well tolerated by humans, the use of spider silk for cosmetics or medical implants is conceivable. In her doctoral thesis at the Hannover Medical School (MHH), Hanna Wendt found out that spider silk would be ideally suited for growing artificial skin. The material has a high level of strength, is nevertheless stretchable and is tolerated by the human body.

Scientists at the Hanover University Clinic had previously discovered that spider silk supports the regeneration of nerves and is suitable as a suture material. The investigations were carried out with “golden orb web spiders” from Tanzania. On the skin cells transplanted by Hanna Wendt, supplied with nutrients, warmth and air, two superimposed tissue-like skin layers grew in a very short time. Research is now being carried out on the synthetic production of spider silk in a clinical setting.


image: wikipedia