JAN 10, 2017 1:32 PM PST

Antibiotic Synthetic Spider Silk Might be Coming to a Hospital Near You

WRITTEN BY: Jennifer Ellis

Strength, biodegradability and biocompatibility are all features of spider silk that make it an appealing option for biomedical applications. However, spider silk is hard to mass produce in potential spider farms due to the territorial and cannibalistic nature of spiders. To overcome this issue, scientists have been able to create recombinant spider silk from other sources such as E.coli. Now, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Nottingham has gone one step further to produce a recombinant spider silk that can be modified and applied to drug delivery, regenerative medicine and wound healing.

The new approach functionalizes recombinant spider silk with the ability to bind and release a wide range of small molecules. By adding in an amino acid containing an azide group to the silk proteins, the team was able to use ‘click chemistry’ to add on other small molecules such as antibiotics once the proteins are made.

The Click Chemistry reaction, where R1 and R2 are the connecting molecules (the spider protein and the antibiotic)

Click chemistry is a common protocol for the modification of molecules. It uses a copper catalyst to initiate a reaction only between an already specified azide group and an alkyne group and does not interfere with other organic groups within the system. The groups are introduced into DNA and proteins so can be inserted at the optimal location chosen by the creator. In this case, the click chemistry reaction helps develop a site-specific chemical conjugation of various organic molecules.

Using E. coli as the machines to create the special silk, the group is able to click the molecule of choice into its place before or after the fibers are built. This allows more control of the process and of the types of molecules that can be incorporated into the silk.

Once the silk is made, there is a wide range of potential applications. In wound healing, the silk can dually act as a scaffold on which new cells can grow and as a protectant that slowly releases antibiotics over time to prevent infection. And with the low reactivity rates with the immune system, synthetic spider silk is easily introduced to immunocompromised patients.

Professor Neil Thomas, lead author and Professor of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry, said: "There is the possibility of using the silk in advanced dressings for the treatment of slow-healing wounds such as diabetic ulcers. Using our technique infection could be prevented over weeks or months by the controlled release of antibiotics. At the same time tissue regeneration is accelerated by silk fibers functioning as a temporary scaffold before being biodegraded."

The collaborative group is working on application of the process. The study, published in Advanced Materials, also introduces the potential of synthetic spider silk in a variety of different disciplines.

"Our technique allows the rapid generation of biocompatible, mono or multi-functionalized silk structures for use in a wide range of applications. These will be particularly useful in the fields of tissue engineering and biomedicine."

Sources: phys.org, Advanced Materials

About the Author
  • I love all things science and am passionate about bringing science to the public through writing. With an M.S. in Genetics and experience in cancer research, marketing and technical writing, it is a pleasure to share the latest trends and findings in science on LabRoots.
You May Also Like
OCT 06, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Radioactive Tracer Shines the Floodlights on Inflammation
OCT 06, 2020
Radioactive Tracer Shines the Floodlights on Inflammation
A patient checks into the hospital with difficulty breathing. Is inflammation to blame? How can physicians visualize are ...
NOV 14, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
STEVE, what is it?
NOV 14, 2020
STEVE, what is it?
STEVE is in the sky! STEVE, as is Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, the purple and green streaks that have b ...
DEC 03, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Ozone Reacts with THC in Thirdhand Cannabis Smoke
DEC 03, 2020
Ozone Reacts with THC in Thirdhand Cannabis Smoke
Researchers from the University of Toronto have found that ozone, a component of outdoor and indoor air, reacts with tet ...
DEC 03, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
This microscope can see through an intact skull
DEC 03, 2020
This microscope can see through an intact skull
New research from a team at the Center for Molecular Spectroscopy and Dynamics within the Institute of Basic Science (IB ...
DEC 27, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
The Coolest Molecules of 2020
DEC 27, 2020
The Coolest Molecules of 2020
2020 was a chaotic, stressful year for most, but it did not stop innovative ideas and creative scientific thinking from ...
JAN 10, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Documenting biological magnetoreception in living cells
JAN 10, 2021
Documenting biological magnetoreception in living cells
New research published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences from a team of scientists fr ...
Loading Comments...