Team:UCLA/Project/Functionalizing Fibers


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Functionalizing Fibers


Another method of producing functionalized fibers is to simultaneously spin, or "co-spin" ordinary silk proteins with other proteins. These proteins will be expressed separately, but mixed together and spun into a fiber from a single dope. For our particular project, the proteins that we plan to co-spin are natural Bombyx mori silkworm silk and a recombinant protein fusion consisting of a silk-GFP hybrid. There are two recombinant fusions that we are testing: the first is a single MaSp2 subunit of Nephila clavipes silk genetically fused to superfolder GFP, and the second is superfolder GFP flanked by the N and C termini of Bombyx mori silk. [IMAGE of MaSp2-sfGFP silk amino acid sequence here] [IMAGE of N terminus - sfGFP - C terminus amino acid sequence here] sfGFP in these experiments can be swapped out for any other funcitonal protein that is small enough in size so as to not interfere with the silk fiber formation when co-spun with natural silk. The silk sequences in the protein fusions function somewhat as affinity domains, encouraging the fusions to bing to the native silk proteins at homologous amino acid sequences during the co-spinning process. This has been previously accomplished in vivo in recombinant silkworms, and we aim to translate the process into an in vitro protocol.

Future Directions

Attaching functional peptides to silk can have promising applications. A team in Japan, led by Dr. Tamura, has been able to successfully express recombinant silk-GFP fusion fibers from genetically engineered silkworms, suggesting that it is indeed possible to produce functional materials out of recombinant silk (Iizuka et al.) Although several groups have been able to express and isolate silk from microbial organisms (Telue et al.), the functionalization aspect has yet to be thoroughly investigated in model microbial organisms such as E. coli. Our goal this year has been to create a protein fusion in E. coli that allows GFP to intercalate into silk fibers. If this works, it would serve as a proof of principle for the next step of our project- replacing GFP with SpyTag, to have an “all-purpose” protein fusion intercalated into our fiber. SpyTag is a peptide that irreversibly forms an amide bond with its partner protein, SpyCatcher. Theoretically, this would allow us the flexibility to produce a number of various fibers via post-translational treatment. For example, a SpyTag-silk fiber could be treated with a SpyCatcher-RFP fusion to produce a red fluorescent fiber without ever having to directly fuse RFP to the silk at the genetic level.

Functionalization Constructs

Functional recombinant silk fibers can be produced through several means. One of the approaches our team took to make such fiber is by fusing GFP to one subunit of MaSp2. In theory, the MaSp2 subunit would facilitate intermolecular interactions between the GFP-MaSp2 protein fusion, allowing the GFP to intercalate into the final fiber when extruded via co-spinning. The part was produced using standard iGEM Assembly RFC10, after replacing the stop codon with two nucleotides at the end of GFP to keep everything in frame. The final construct consists of a 6x His Tag fused to the N-terminus of GFP in the GFP-MaSp2 fusion, flanked by the BioBrick prefix and suffix.

[1] Iizuka, T., Sezutsu, H., Tatematsu, K.-i., Kobayashi, I., Yonemura, N., Uchino, K., Nakajima, K., Kojima, K., Takabayashi, C., Machii, H., Yamada, K., Kurihara, H., Asakura, T., Nakazawa, Y., Miyawaki, A., Karasawa, S., Kobayashi, H., Yamaguchi, J., Kuwabara, N., Nakamura, T., Yoshii, K. and Tamura, T. (2013), Colored Fluorescent Silk Made by Transgenic Silkworms. Adv. Funct. Mater., 23: 5232–5239. doi: 10.1002/adfm.201300365

[2] Teulé, Florence, et al. "A protocol for the production of recombinant spider silk-like proteins for artificial fiber spinning." Nature protocols 4.3 (2009): 341-355.

[3] Rockwood, Danielle N., et al. "Materials fabrication from Bombyx mori silk fibroin." Nature protocols 6.10 (2011): 1612-1631.