A chemical method for synthesizing spider-silk-like material

January 19, 2017

Produces polypeptides that mimic the protein structure of spider silk

Spider silk (dragline silk) is as strong as iron, making it a good candidate for structural materials such as automobile parts. However, since spiders cannot be domesticated like silkworms, it is not easy to produce natural spider silk in large scale. An easy method for synthesizing artificial spider proteins in large scale has remained out of reach, excepting some high-cost microbial methods.

A RIKEN CSRS research team has succeeded in synthesizing multiblock polypeptides with amino acid sequences similar to those in spider silk proteins. The method uses a two-step reaction involving chemoenzymatic polymerization of amino acid esters. A structural analysis by X-ray diffraction revealed the multiblock polypeptides also had a secondary structure similar to spider silk protein.

This novel synthetic method provides a large-scale production of the polypeptide at a lower cost than expensive microbial synthesis. The spider-silk-like material could be used as a substitute for the high-strength materials derived from petroleum sources and contribute to realizing a sustainable society.

Original article
ACS Macro Letters doi:10.1021/acsmacrolett.7b00006
K. Tsuchiya, K. Numata,
"Chemical synthesis of multiblock copolypeptides inspired by spider dragline silk proteins".
Kousuke Tsuchiya; Senior Scientist
Keiji Numata; Team Leader
Enzyme Research Team