Applicability of biotechnologically produced insect silks

Z Naturforsch C J Biosci. 2017 Sep 26;72(9-10):365-385. doi: 10.1515/znc-2017-0050.


Silks are structural proteins produced by arthropods. Besides the well-known cocoon silk, which is produced by larvae of the silk moth Bombyx mori to undergo metamorphosis inside their silken shelter (and which is also used for textile production by men since millennia), numerous further less known silk-producing animals exist. The ability to produce silk evolved multiple independent times during evolution, and the fact that silk was subject to convergent evolution gave rise to an abundant natural diversity of silk proteins. Silks are used in air, under water, or like honey bee silk in the hydrophobic, waxen environment of the bee hive. The good mechanical properties of insect silk fibres together with their non-toxic, biocompatible, and biodegradable nature renders these materials appealing for both technical and biomedical applications. Although nature provides a great diversity of material properties, the variation in quality inherent in materials from natural sources together with low availability (except from silkworm silk) impeded the development of applications of silks. To overcome these two drawbacks, in recent years, recombinant silks gained more and more interest, as the biotechnological production of silk proteins allows for a scalable production at constant quality. This review summarises recent developments in recombinant silk production as well as technical procedures to process recombinant silk proteins into fibres, films, and hydrogels.

Keywords: biomedical applications of silks; biotechnological silk production; recombinant insect silks; silk inspired materials; silk processing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry
  • Biocompatible Materials / metabolism
  • Bioengineering / methods
  • Biotechnology / methods*
  • Bombyx / genetics
  • Bombyx / growth & development
  • Bombyx / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogels / chemistry
  • Insect Proteins / chemistry
  • Insect Proteins / genetics
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism*
  • Silk / chemistry
  • Silk / genetics
  • Silk / metabolism*


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Hydrogels
  • Insect Proteins
  • Silk