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Scientists achieve self-assembly of spider silk fiber in insect cells

For the first time anywhere, scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and from Germany have succeeded in producing self-assembled spider web fibers under laboratory conditions, outside of the bodies of spiders. This fiber is significantly stronger than the silk fiber made by silkworms.

The achievement by the research team, described in an article in the Nov. 23 issue of Current Biology, opens the way to commercial development of this spider fiber for numerous industrial applications.

Silk has been in use by mankind for thousands of years. However, unlike silkworms, spiders are territorial in nature and thus not subject to domestication and commercial growth in quantities.

Scientists have attempted to create spider's webs independently of the spider itself through genetic engineering by manufacturing the proteins, which constitute the silk fibers of the webs, through the use of bacteria, yeast, plants and mammalian cells in tissue culture. But these efforts were unsuccessful in producing fibers with properties similar to the natural ones.

Now, the Israeli-German scientific team has succeeded, through techniques of genetic engineering, in creating spontaneous production of spider web fiber in insect cell cultures. These fibers were equal in their chemical resistance characteristics to those produced by the spider. Mass production of such fiber in the future can be used industrially in various areas which require fine applications. The Yissum Research Development Company of the Hebrew University and German partners are focusing on commercializing the research.

Participants in the research, which has been conducted over the past two years, are the developmental biologist Dr. Uri Gat, doctoral student Shmulik Ittah and research assistant Shulamit Cohen of the Department of Cell and Animal Biology in the Silberman Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University; Dr. Thomas Scheibel and doctoral student Danie
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Contact: Jerry Barach
jerryb@savion.huji.ac.il
972-2-588-2904
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
23-Nov-2004


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