Silk is a remarkably tough material and many associationsare competing to make the first artificial silk. Very few people have an idea thathoneybees produce silk, but they do and that has been proved.


No one of us had any slightest of idea that bees can be theones who can produce silk. The mothers of silks have always been moths,silkworms, butterflies and lately spiders too joined the community using itmostly 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 distinctivefeature carried by their silk is the toughness they have. They have aparticular structure of molecule that differentiates it with large structure ofproteins as in moths and spiders. It has an arrangement wherein the cocoon twirlswith each other providing a light weighted tough silk. After acknowledging theproductive biology of bees, the genes of bull dog ants, weaver ants andbumblebees are compared to theirs. Though the silk of Ants and Bees is producedby larvae in the similar natural process and holds almost samecharacteristic features, yet they are used for different purposes and in adifferent way.

Process of study

The cells in which the larvae pupate are supported by thesilk they produce. Larvae of bumblebee rotate cocoons in wax hives (which canbe used again for storage purpose), the larvae of bulldog ant protects the lonecocoons by spinning around them during the pupation process and last but notthe least, the larvae of weaver ants are used to make big collective nests fromfresh leaves.

This tough and strong silk is a distinct production by thesesharp, prickled bugs. These insects are much superior in the hierarchy of theEvolutionary tree and these silks mark their evolution around 155 million yearsback. These bugs have the tendency to produce silks of harder texture andstronger structure in comparison to what has been the actual silk definitionlike. In interview with Fibre2fashion, Dr. Tara says, "Theprocess is still in the early discovery stage".

An important achievement has been added to this by thescientists of CSIRO, Australia. They have hand-drawn fine threads of honeybeesilk 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 arethe proteins. Unlike the silk of spiders and silkworms, the cells are small andnon-repetitive; bee silk is much more acquiescent to artificial production ofsilk in comparison to silk proteins of silkworm and spiders. The group hasidentified the honeybee fibre genes and concluded that highly different genecluster in honeybees encodes a new silk family".

The cells of bacterium E. coli are used to produce the silkproteins which, under the perfect environment, self-gather into arrangementlike honeybee silk. The scientists already had an idea that the similar silkcan be produced by using the substances of the original silk glands and theycan be hand-drawn by using the glutinous protein. Though it has not been aneasy 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 marine environments".


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