When humanity enters space and space further, there will be a growing demand for highly effective technologies that can recycle on-board resources to produce critical materials for long-term missions.
A new technique that could potentially perform such a function, according to NASA-funded research, presented today at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in 2019.
Thanks to the latest developments in the field of synthetic biology, the team headed by Fuzhong Zhang of the University of Washington in St. Louis found a way of bacterial engineering to enable them to produce spider silk and other hard-made proteins that could be useful in upcoming space missions. . substances based on protein that developed in nature, the properties of which compete and often surpass even the most advanced man-made materials. Spider silk, for example, is a pound per pound, stronger and harder than steel. However, unlike steel, it can not be produced on a large scale, limiting its usefulness to people.
"In nature, there are many protein-based materials that have amazing mechanical properties, but the supply of these materials is very often limited," Zhang said in a statement. "My laboratory is interested in engineering microbes so that we can not only produce these materials, but also make them even better. "
If we were able to produce material on a large scale, it could be used in everything from a surgical suture to bullet-proof fabric. The problem is that single spiders do not produce large quantities and retain significant keel The bone of animals together often leads to cannibalism.
To overcome this problem, various research groups have previously attempted to add a spider DNA to various surrogate organisms such as bacteria, yeasts and even goats to produce silk themselves. The present material has never been suitable for a real silk spider.
This is due to the fact that the DNA responsible for the production of spider fibers is very unstable when it is placed in another organism, since the sequences are very long and repetitive. So Zhang and his team tried to break long and repeatable DNA sequences into small pieces that could be inserted into a bacterium. These bacteria could then produce small amounts of spider-silk protein, which could then be screwed into longer fibers with the help of special equipment.
The material created by the team was very similar to the natural silkworm and demonstrated incredible strength, strength and elasticity. In addition, they could produce up to two grams of silk per liter of bacteria ̵
A synthetic silkworm can be particularly useful for future long-term space missions. , according to Zhang. "NASA is one of our sponsors and they are interested in bioproducts," he said.
"Now they are developing technologies in which they can convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrates that can be used as food for germs. Thus, astronauts could produce these materials based on protein in space without producing a large amount of raw material."  In addition, the technology developed by the researchers can also be used to produce other protein-based materials, may be useful here on Earth, for example, they have created a copper protein that firmly adheres to surfaces, even under water.