Spider silk is Nature’s high performance material that has the potential to revolutionize the materials industry. However, production and spinning of artificial spider silk fibers are challenging, and current methods to produce silk fibers include denaturing conditions which prevent the silk proteins from assembling into fibers in the same complex way as native silk proteins do. In order to fulfill the potential of spider silk we need to increase our understanding of the silk formation process and decipher how protein folding and interactions relate to mechanical properties of the resulting silk fiber. Recent insights into the physiology and molecular mechanisms of the spinning process has made it possible to develop a biomimetic artificial spider silk spinning device (see our publications Andersson et al. Nat Chem Biol. 2017; Otikovs et al. Angew Chemie Int Engl Ed. 2017). We are, for the first time, able to spin artificial silk fibers in which the proteins adopt correct secondary, tertiary and quaternary structures. The overall objective of ARTSILK is to build on these recent technical leaps and use state-of-the-art technologies to generate artificial silk fibers that are equal or superior to native spider silk in terms of toughness and tensile strength. To reach the overall objective we will use the recently mapped spider genome, protein engineering and single cell RNA (ScRNA) sequencing to design novel silk proteins for fiber production. We will also study the relationship between protein secondary structure formation and fiber mechanical properties in order to decipher the ques that determine mechanical properties of the fiber. This knowledge will be important also for the basic understanding of how soluble proteins covert into b-sheet rich fibrils in, e.g., Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, we will use microfluidic chips to engineer the next generation spinning device and 3D-printing techniques to make reproducible three-dimensional structures of spider silk.
Project partnersKarolinska Institutet