Researchers have achieved yet another milestone in the global quest to produce synthetic 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 silk biomaterials.

“It means that we can now seriously consider the uses to which these biomimetic materials can be put,” said Tara Sutherland from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), who led the research.

“We used recombinant cells of bacterium 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 fibre,” said Sutherland, according to a CSIRO release.

Potential uses for these silks would be tough, lightweight textiles, high—strength applications for use in aviation and marine environments, and medical applications such as sutures, artificial tendons and ligaments.

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