Chance Meeting Leads to Creation of Antibiotic Spider Silk

A chance meeting between a spider expert and a chemist has led to the development of antibiotic synthetic spider silk. After five years' work, an interdisciplinary team of scientists at The University of Nottingham (UK) has developed a technique to produce chemically functionalized spider silk that can be tailored to applications used in drug delivery, regenerative medicine, and wound healing. The Nottingham research team has shown for the first time how “click-chemistry” can be used to attach molecules, such as antibiotics or fluorescent dyes, to artificially produced spider silk synthesized by E.coli bacteria. The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is published online on December 28, 2018 in Advanced Materials. The article is titled “Antibiotic Spider Silk: Site-Specific Functionalization of Recombinant Spider Silk Using “Click” Chemistry. The chosen molecules can be “clicked” into place in soluble silk protein before it has been turned into fibres, or after the fibres have been formed. This means that the process can be easily controlled and more than one type of molecule can be used to “decorate” individual silk strands. In a laboratory in the Centre of Biomolecular Sciences, Professor Neil Thomas from the School of Chemistry in collaboration with Dr. Sara Goodacre from the School of Life Sciences, has led a team of BBSRC DTP-funded Ph.D. students starting with David Harvey who was then joined by Victor Tudorica, Leah Ashley and Tom Coekin. They have developed and diversified this new approach to functionalizing “recombinant” -- artificial -- spider silk with a wide range of small molecules.
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