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Manufacturing bee silk with bacteria

By Paul Grad |

A partnership between Australian research agency CSIRO (Melbourne, Australia; www.csiro.au) and Lonza Group Ltd. (Basel, Switzerland; www.lonza.com), aims to market new insect silk products globally. Potential applications of insect silk include composite fibers for the aviation and marine industries, and medical applications such as wound repair, drug delivery, repairing and replacing human tissues such as membranes, ligaments, blood vessels and cartilage. Production of silk at adequate yield and desirable properties including stability, lightness and tensile strength, as in natural silks, has been the aim of a group from several CSIRO divisions in Victoria and the ACT (Australian Capital Territory), and the Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University (Medford, Mass.; www.tufts.edu). Many invertebrates, including silkworms, bees, spiders and ants produce silk. Production of silkworm and spider silks as biomaterials has posed problems due to the large size and repetitive nature of the silk proteins. In contrast, the silk of honeybees (Apis mellifera) is made of a family of four small and non-repetitive fibrous proteins. An NMR study reported that honeybee silk proteins have both a-helix and b-sheet structures, and that a-helical…
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