Дата публикации: 28 октября 2015
Автор(ы): Yuri Medvedev
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Номер публикации: №1446058635

Yuri Medvedev, (c)


The latest discovery by Russian bioengineers puts them on a par with the big-name firms Du Pont and Johnson & Johnson.

The first samples of a unique fabric five times stronger than steel have been produced at the R&D Institute for Genetics and Breeding of Industrial Microorganisms. Such a material has been the lifelong dream of researchers in the fields of medicine, engineering, defense, electronics, and aerospace.

After much persuasion by your Vremya correspondent, Vladimir Bogush, C.Sc. (Biology), agreed to perform a small experiment. Taking a fist-sized spider indigenous to the Far East, he wound round a drill the silk thread secreted by one of its glands. Within five minutes he managed to extract more than 25 meters.

"Nature has nothing to match this in strength and elasticity," Bogush explained. "As light as a snowflake, the thread has a tensile strength five times that of steel and can stretch out by a third of its length. According to our calculations, when twisted to the thickness of a pencil, the web will stop a flying Boeing, which will get entangled in it like a fly."

Man has long been borrowing technical solutions from nature, which has perfected its inventions over millions of years. For instance, we have unraveled the secrets of the egg shell's toughness, of the amazing field of vision of the frog's eye, of the dolphin's "high-speed" skin, and of the methods of navigation and direction finding used by birds and animals.

The U.S. Defense Department has recently earmarked hefty sums of money to create all sorts of flying and crawling minirobots - mimics of real things in nature - that will fight in future wars.

Some time ago, on an order from the military, special farms got spiders to spin threads that were used for precision sighting systems. Spider silk was used to make armored vests beside which the renowned Kevlar (synthetic fiber having high tensile strength and temperate resistance) seemed heavy and brittle. But nature can produce spider silk only in scanty amounts.

It is a most intricate compound material built of several types of proteins. Some are amorphous and make the web amazingly elastic like the web of different spider mites; others are crystalline and incredibly tough. This wonderful creation of nature has so far defeated the technology of our time.

And now Russian genetic engineers have discovered the secret of that creation. They have deciphered the genes responsible for forming the telae (delicate weblike structure) of the cobweb silk; these telae are composed of araneous (spider's) protein.

Then the bioengineers built the genes into special bacteria, which are used as a kind of incubator in genetic engineering. The bacteria develop quickly, and churn out proteins at the command of the genes put into them. Incidentally, various types of bacteria that have human genes introduced into them are already widely used in the production of such proteins as insulin, interferon, and growth hormones. But in the research done by the Russian bioengineers, the microorganisms resisted the alien elements and secreted araneous protein slowly, in dribs and drabs.

"We have discovered why the bacteria suddenly got willful and rejected the spider genes," Bogush said. "We just couldn't do anything about this incompatibility, so we had to synthesize artificial genes. They differ slightly from the natural genes of the spider, but they are adapted to the bacteria. After that, the incubator started working at full capacity, producing araneous protein in large quantities."

That protein will be the basis for creating new materials long awaited in many industries. The results achieved by the Russian bioengineers place them on a level with the world leaders in this field, among whom are the famous Du Pont and Johnson & Johnson.

Опубликовано на Порталусе 28 октября 2015 года

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