Nature has been offering several biological substances that are extremely better than the finest artificially-designed products. For example, the biologically generated spider silk is much better in terms of strength and toughness as compared to artificially-produced steel. But, the mass production of spider silk is not feasible. Researchers have recently reported an innovative approach to fabricate spider silk using genetically-engineered bacteria.
If the bulk production of spider silk is possible, then it can be used in multiple applications such as the production of bullet-proof fabrics, surgical sutures, and other beneficial items. As, it is not easy to farm spider silk due to quite slow and very small quantities of production, and some species of spiders turn cannibalistic when managed to keep in groups. Therefore, researchers have used the approach of genetic- engineering in bacteria, fungi, plants and even animals such as goats to biologically develop spider silk. Even using this technique, they have not been able to obtain the mechanical properties shown by natural fiber.
The hurdle arriving in this approach is the extensive size of DNA fragment encoding the proteins required to generate spider-silk. Even after the successful integration of the DNA sequence into the host cell’s genome, the gene gets snipped or altered due to high instability.
So, the researchers speculated if they could split the long DNA sequence into shorter fragments and insert into the bacterial genome to better handle and build proteins. Then, the small protein blocks could be assembled into long spider silk fiber.
So, the researchers applied the hypothesized approach to develop the fragmented proteins using microbial cultures and later extracted and assembled the proteins into fibers. Though researchers have acquired more quantity of silk using the engineered method than spiders could traditionally produce, but they are still trying to improve the yield.
Apart from this, the researchers are trying to develop technologies through which the engineered microbes can be able to consume CO2 as their energy source by converting it into carbohydrates. By using this approach, astronauts could generate protein-based resources in space.