Silk is a remarkably tough material and many associations
are competing to make the first artificial silk. Very few people have an idea that
honeybees produce silk, but they do and that has been proved.
No one of us had any slightest of idea that bees can be the
ones who can produce silk. The mothers of silks have always been moths,
silkworms, butterflies and lately spiders too joined the community using it
mostly for web making. &sec=article&uinfo=<%=server.URLEncode(2847)%>"
target="_blank">Fibre2fashion had an elite discussion in this regard with Dr.
Tara Sutherland, a renowned scientist of Entomology wing, CSIRO, Australia.
Bees, as well as ants, produce silk and the distinctive
feature carried by their silk is the toughness they have. They have a
particular structure of molecule that differentiates it with large structure of
proteins as in moths and spiders. It has an arrangement wherein the cocoon twirls
with each other providing a light weighted tough silk. After acknowledging the
productive biology of bees, the genes of bull dog ants, weaver ants and
bumblebees are compared to theirs. Though the silk of Ants and Bees is produced
by larvae in the similar natural process and holds almost same
characteristic features, yet they are used for different purposes and in a
Process of study
The cells in which the larvae pupate are supported by the
silk they produce. Larvae of bumblebee rotate cocoons in wax hives (which can
be used again for storage purpose), the larvae of bulldog ant protects the lone
cocoons by spinning around them during the pupation process and last but not
the least, the larvae of weaver ants are used to make big collective nests from
This tough and strong silk is a distinct production by these
sharp, prickled bugs. These insects are much superior in the hierarchy of the
Evolutionary tree and these silks mark their evolution around 155 million years
back. These bugs have the tendency to produce silks of harder texture and
stronger structure in comparison to what has been the actual silk definition
like. In interview with Fibre2fashion, Dr. Tara says, "The
process is still in the early discovery stage".
An important achievement has been added to this by the
scientists of CSIRO, Australia. They have hand-drawn fine threads of honeybee
silk from a 'soup' of silk proteins that they had produced Transgenetically.
The threads of these silk are supposed to be as strong as the original coiled silk.
These silks can be put to many uses like fancy dress materials.
The genes in the honeybee are sensitive to insecticides. Dr.
Sutherland says, "The benefits of this silk over other silks are
the proteins. Unlike the silk of spiders and silkworms, the cells are small and
non-repetitive; bee silk is much more acquiescent to artificial production of
silk in comparison to silk proteins of silkworm and spiders. The group has
identified the honeybee fibre genes and concluded that highly different gene
cluster in honeybees encodes a new silk family".
The cells of bacterium E. coli are used to produce the silk
proteins which, under the perfect environment, self-gather into arrangement
like honeybee silk. The scientists already had an idea that the similar silk
can be produced by using the substances of the original silk glands and they
can be hand-drawn by using the glutinous protein. Though it has not been an
easy job, still the results are incredible.
The honeybee has been acknowledged as the first insect that
has a system alike to humans and the gene for telomerase has been identified in them. Telomeres shield the end of
chromosomes. The enzyme telomerase restock the telomeres in early development
in humans. Telomerase shuts later at the time of ageing when the telomere
shortens, whereas in cancer cells involve unlimited cell division.
This research of producing artificial silk has been
experimented on other invertebrates too, but it has not turned fruitful due to
the complex arrangement of genes. The silk genes in the honeybee was
nevertheless identified and the researchers had a faint idea that the silk was
programmed by four non-repetitive genes which are small in size and have a
simpler arrangement suiting best for transgenic silk production. Dr. Sutherland
throws light on the commercial uses of this silk by
saying, "This silk can be brought in use in many ways like strong
but lightweight textiles, medical applications such as
sutures, artificial tendons and ligaments and composites used in aviation and
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