1. Molecular Design
Our protein manufacturing process starts with the bioinformatic analysis of genetic code and amino acid sequences. Based on this analysis, we then design molecules which can deliver high performance and tailored functionality, such as tensile strength, elasticity, heat tolerance, and so on. Modifications made at this stage also contribute to increased productivity levels during the microbial fermentation phase.
2. Gene Synthesis
Creating new molecules requires the ability to carry out high-throughput synthesis of any type of gene sequence. However, due to their highly repetitive structure, genes that code for spider silk proteins have been extremely difficult to synthesize with existing technology. We invested considerable resources into overcoming this problem, and developed a proprietary, in-house solution capable of synthesizing these repetitive genes in as little as three days. To date, we have designed and added more than 1,000 sequences to our synthetic gene library using this technology. The process of creating new varieties of genes continues to this day.
3. Microbial Fermentation
The next step is to select a candidate gene which has been optimized for functionality and productivity based on the data stored in our gene library. We then utilize our proprietary protein expression system to create a test batch of the desired protein. Operating at this trial scale allows us to modify fermentation and purification parameters on the fly and quickly examine the impact these changes have on protein production. Once a promising protein has been identified, we carry out large-scale fermentation for raw protein acquisition. Currently, the efficiency of our microbial fibroin production process is on par with the highest international levels achieved to date (based on publicly disclosed sources).
Once the fermentation process is complete, we purify the raw fibroin and process it via our proprietary technologies to create fibers, film, sponges, resins, and other types of materials. We then analyze the properties and characteristics of each material and record the results in our database in order to improve future molecular designs. Our fiber spinning process in particular deserves special mention: it was designed entirely in-house from the ground up, and now serves as a cornerstone technology as we scale up towards mass production.
Once processed, we take the resulting protein material, such as a textile or a composite, and use it to create a prototype. Creating and evaluating prototypes helps us develop the necessary equipment and technology to manufacture finished products that are guaranteed to meet our end-users’ highest expectations. Finally, we evaluate the parameters used at each stage of our production process—from genetic synthesis to prototyping—and feed the resulting data back into the next cycle of molecular design.