WISS: Why Is Silk Spun? Integrating bio-rheology with advanced spectroscopic techniques

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Zoology

Abstract

Silk's individuality as a biological material is established before it even becomes a fibre. Quite unlike any other biopolymer, silk is not grown slowly over months and years like hair bone and feathers, but produced in a matter of seconds through the act of spinning. Whilst this approach is unique in the natural world, it is familiar territory to man, thus making silk highly relevant as a model biopolymer; it is fabricated in a familiar solvent-spinning process, which in turn is accessible to laboratory investigation. Hence we now have the background and means to ask; given that Nature already had existing mechanisms for nano-scale deposition of materials, why was a fundamentally new biofabrication process evolved, how does it work and what can we learn from it? The proposed study sets out to investigate why silk proteins are unique amongst biological materials in having been optimised for flow processing (i.e. spinning). The proposed work will build on previous work on silk protein structures in solution but will introduce novel integrated rheo-spectroscopic tools to study these systems dynamically. Specifically our research aims to: (i) develop, refine and extend our bulk rheological measurements on silk proteins; (ii) spectroscopically determine silk protein structural changes under flow; (iii) observe silk protein denaturation and aggregation kinetics under flow and the development of multiscale hierarchical structures and - importantly - (iv) offer multidisciplinary training for a D.phil student at the interface of the physical and the life sciences.This project offers the unparalleled opportunity to understand the origins of a novel bioprocessing technology that has direct implications for our own industrial production of polymers that are environmentally benign and will operate in a wide range of different conditions and applications with exceptional properties. The outcome of this research will challenge our understanding of why proteins fold and aggregate, addressing questions from evolutionary biology to soft condensed matter physics.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Alexander Graham Bell Doctorate Scholarship
Amount £63,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) 
Sector Public
Country Canada
Start  
 
Description Alexander Graham Bell Doctorate Scholarship
Amount £63,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) 
Sector Public
Country Canada
Start  
 
Description Beamtime with Diamond (UK) & ESRF (France) 
Organisation Diamond Light Source
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration work with the following Beamtime participants; Diamond (UK) using I22 SAXS. Date:16/10/2009 - 4 Days in total. ESRF (France) using BM26 SAXS. Date: 05/04/2010 - 5 Days in total.
 
Description Beamtime with Diamond (UK) & ESRF (France) 
Organisation European Synchrotron Radiation Facility
Country European Union (EU) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration work with the following Beamtime participants; Diamond (UK) using I22 SAXS. Date:16/10/2009 - 4 Days in total. ESRF (France) using BM26 SAXS. Date: 05/04/2010 - 5 Days in total.
 
Description Collaborations with Industry 
Organisation Malvern Instruments
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Interaction and collaboration with UK Rheology/Thermal Analysis/Spectroscopy companies as follows; TA Instruments - Rheometer Pilot Studies: 14/12/2010 Malvern Instruments - 2 x Lab Visit, 1 x site visit and presentation about combined Rheology ATR technique. Thermo-Fisher - Lab visit to discuss Spectroscopic techniques.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Collaborations with Industry 
Organisation T A Instruments Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Interaction and collaboration with UK Rheology/Thermal Analysis/Spectroscopy companies as follows; TA Instruments - Rheometer Pilot Studies: 14/12/2010 Malvern Instruments - 2 x Lab Visit, 1 x site visit and presentation about combined Rheology ATR technique. Thermo-Fisher - Lab visit to discuss Spectroscopic techniques.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Collaborations with Industry 
Organisation Thermo Fisher Scientific
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Interaction and collaboration with UK Rheology/Thermal Analysis/Spectroscopy companies as follows; TA Instruments - Rheometer Pilot Studies: 14/12/2010 Malvern Instruments - 2 x Lab Visit, 1 x site visit and presentation about combined Rheology ATR technique. Thermo-Fisher - Lab visit to discuss Spectroscopic techniques.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Heterogenities in silk 
Organisation University of Laval
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Heterogeneities in silk
Start Year 2011
 
Description Study of silk by SAXS 
Organisation European Synchrotron Radiation Facility
Country European Union (EU) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Study of silk by SAXS
Start Year 2011
 
Description Study of silk by SAXS 
Organisation University of Ghent
Country Belgium 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Study of silk by SAXS
Start Year 2012
 
Description Scientists meet the Media Party 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact A bringing together of Scientists from a wide range of disciplines and Scientific and Arts Journalists.

By raising awareness of the remarkable properties of silk the aim was for this knowledge and understanding to ultimately reach the public domain through the Media vehicle.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Users Public Engagement symposium of the STFC 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public Engagement Symposium. Bringing Science and Research into the Public Domain.

To increase the public awareness of the importance of silk as an environmentally friendly high performance polymer that could extend into many new application areas in the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012