Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Eggs on Stalks

31.05.2012
Synthetic silk: researchers imitate the egg stalks of lacewings

Silk is a fascinating material, not just in fashion, but also in science and engineering, because the outstanding mechanical properties of these whisper-thin threads made by insects easily overshadow most man-made fibers.



German researchers have now taken inspiration from the lacewing, which lays its eggs on stalks made of silk with extremely high tensile strength. As they report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, they successfully produced synthetic egg stalks from biotechnologically generated proteins modeled on an egg-stalk protein.

Lacewings are light-green insects with transparent wings that are used by farmers to combat aphids. In order to protect their own offspring from predators, lacewings lay their eggs on very fine but extremely resilient silk stalks. To do this, the lacewing sticks a drop of silk dope from its abdomen to the underside of a leaf. It then presses an egg into the drop and pulls it downward. In this way, it pulls a thread that hardens within a few seconds in the air – the egg is now secured under the leaf. The threads are significantly finer than a human hair, but are so strong that they do not bend under the weight of the egg when the leaf is turned over.

The lacewing’s silk dope secretion contains several different proteins. One of the proteins contains a core domain with many repeated similar sequences. This area is flanked by small terminal domains that essentially control the properties of the silk proteins.

Thomas Scheibel and Felix Bauer at the University of Bayreuth wanted to produce an egg stalk with properties as similar as possible to the lacewing stalks. They thus developed a synthetic egg-stalk protein made of eight repeated building blocks consisting of 48 amino acids based on the repeating units of the natural silk protein. The end units were copied exactly from the original. The researchers synthesized a gene segment that codes for this artificial protein and introduced it into bacteria that then produce the protein.

Imitating silk stalk formation, the researchers dipped tweezers into a drop of protein solution, pulled out a filament, and attached the end of the stalk to a piece of aluminum foil. After drying, the stalks had similar tensile strength and elasticity to the natural version. At higher humidity, lacewing egg stalks are superior: they can be stretched out to up to six times their original length without tearing. The reason for this is the special accordion-like structure of other silk components. The researchers are confident that they will also be able to imitate this.

Possible applications for future synthetic silks range from the vehicle construction, for example in airbags, to medical applications, such as synthetic nerve conduits or drug delivery.

About the Author
Professor Thomas Scheibel is the Chair of Biomaterials at the University of Bayreuth (Germany). His research focuses on the biomimetic production of protein fibers as well as the production of protein-based materials for technical, pharmaceutical, and medical applications. He is Head of the Technical Committee “Bioinspired Materials” of the German Society for Materials Research (DGM). He won the Bionics Prize (2006), the “Innovation from Nature challenge” (2007) of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and the Karl Heinz Beckurts Award (2008) for the biomimetic production of spider silks.
Author: Thomas Scheibel, Universität Bayreuth (Germany), http://www.fiberlab.de/
Title: Artificial Egg Stalks Made of a Recombinantly Produced Lacewing Silk Protein

Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Permalink to the article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/anie.201200591

Thomas Scheibel | Angewandte Chemie
Further information:
http://www.fiberlab.de/
http://pressroom.angewandte.org

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Machine learning microscope adapts lighting to improve diagnosis
20.11.2019 | Duke University

nachricht The neocortex is critical for learning and memory
20.11.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Hirnforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Small particles, big effects: How graphene nanoparticles improve the resolution of microscopes

Conventional light microscopes cannot distinguish structures when they are separated by a distance smaller than, roughly, the wavelength of light. Superresolution microscopy, developed since the 1980s, lifts this limitation, using fluorescent moieties. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research have now discovered that graphene nano-molecules can be used to improve this microscopy technique. These graphene nano-molecules offer a number of substantial advantages over the materials previously used, making superresolution microscopy even more versatile.

Microscopy is an important investigation method, in physics, biology, medicine, and many other sciences. However, it has one disadvantage: its resolution is...

Im Focus: Atoms don't like jumping rope

Nanooptical traps are a promising building block for quantum technologies. Austrian and German scientists have now removed an important obstacle to their practical use. They were able to show that a special form of mechanical vibration heats trapped particles in a very short time and knocks them out of the trap.

By controlling individual atoms, quantum properties can be investigated and made usable for technological applications. For about ten years, physicists have...

Im Focus: Images from NJIT's big bear solar observatory peel away layers of a stellar mystery

An international team of scientists, including three researchers from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), has shed new light on one of the central mysteries of solar physics: how energy from the Sun is transferred to the star's upper atmosphere, heating it to 1 million degrees Fahrenheit and higher in some regions, temperatures that are vastly hotter than the Sun's surface.

With new images from NJIT's Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO), the researchers have revealed in groundbreaking, granular detail what appears to be a likely...

Im Focus: New opportunities in additive manufacturing presented

Fraunhofer IFAM Dresden demonstrates manufacturing of copper components

The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM in Dresden has succeeded in using Selective Electron Beam Melting (SEBM) to...

Im Focus: New Pitt research finds carbon nanotubes show a love/hate relationship with water

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are valuable for a wide variety of applications. Made of graphene sheets rolled into tubes 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, CNTs have an exceptional strength-to-mass ratio and excellent thermal and electrical properties. These features make them ideal for a range of applications, including supercapacitors, interconnects, adhesives, particle trapping and structural color.

New research reveals even more potential for CNTs: as a coating, they can both repel and hold water in place, a useful property for applications like printing,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

First International Conference on Agrophotovoltaics in August 2020

15.11.2019 | Event News

Laser Symposium on Electromobility in Aachen: trends for the mobility revolution

15.11.2019 | Event News

High entropy alloys for hot turbines and tireless metal-forming presses

05.11.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

The neocortex is critical for learning and memory

20.11.2019 | Life Sciences

4D imaging with liquid crystal microlenses

20.11.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Walking Changes Vision

20.11.2019 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>