NEWSLETTER

Synthetic Spider Silk & Morphogen Gradients

This Week in Synthetic Biology (Issue #12)

Niko McCarty
Codon
Published in
10 min readOct 16, 2020

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Synthetic Spider Silk (Review)

Every once in awhile, a review comes along that makes me fall in love (again). I’ve always been intrigued by synthetic spider silk, but a review from Eriko Takano’s group, at the University of Manchester, has taken my obsession to new heights. This new review explores all the wondrous ways that living organisms — including, but not limited to, spiders — can be coaxed into producing synthetic silk. Takano and the other authors offer an exciting scientific journey through the challenges of producing, and harvesting, silk spidroin proteins from Salmonella bacteria, mammalian cells, rice (!), other plants (including Nicotiana tabacum) and even mice. I didn’t know that so many different critters could produce silk, nor did I understand just how big of a factor pH plays in the silk spinning process within a spider’s glands. This review, which is open access, was published in Trends in Biotechnology. Link

Source: Tumblr

Synthetic Morphogen Gradients Come of Age

Two back-to-back studies, published in the Oct. 16 issue of Science, have demonstrated tunable, synthetic morphogen gradients — one in an in vitro system, and the other in living fruit flies.

As a multicellular organism, such as the humble fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), develops, each cell needs to be directed, much like a player in a symphony. In many cases, a cell’s final role is assigned, during development, based on the local concentration of a small molecule. Many of these small molecules have fun or threatening names, like “sonic hedgehog” or the tongue-twisting “bone morphogenetic protein–transforming growth factor–b.

If a morphogen’s concentration is high near one cell, for example, that cell might become a wing. Cells located within a low

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Niko McCarty
Codon
Editor for

Science journalism at NYU. Previously Caltech, Imperial College. #SynBio newsletter: https://synbio.substack.com Web: https://nikomccarty.com