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A step closer to commercial production of spider silk

By Gerald Ondrey |

Spider silk has many unique properties that make it suitable for applications such as coatings and medical products. As a protein, the silk is remarkably stable and is only destroyed physically or digested and recycled by the spider. However, an industrially viable synthetic route to spider silk has eluded researchers over the last 25 years, says Axel Leimer, managing director at AMSilk GmbH (Planegg/Martinsreid, Germany; www.amsilk.com). “There have been many patents, but no products.” AMSilk may have the answer, having developed a fermentation process capable of producing kilogram quantities of material, which is sufficient for product development and testing, says Leimer. The process relies on E. Coli bacteria in which the protein sequence — solved by the Technical University of Munich — has been expressed for high production yields. The company has also developed a process to extract the synthetic silk from the bacteria, and aims to produce the silk proteins at the 100-kg scale in the near future. The company is targeting both medical and technical film applications for the new material. For example, silk beads have been shown to be good carriers for drugs, having a high (30–60%) drug-loading efficiency,…
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