Silk–Silica Composites from Genetically Engineered Chimeric Proteins: Materials Properties Correlate with Silica Condensation Rate and Colloidal Stability of the Proteins in Aqueous Solution

The aim of the study was to determine the extent and mechanism of influence on silica condensation that is presented by a range of known silicifying recombinant chimeras (R5: SSKKSGSYSGSKGSKRRIL; A1: SGSKGSKRRIL; and Si4–1: MSPHPHPRHHHT and repeats thereof) attached at the N-terminus end of a 15-mer repeat of the 32 amino acid consensus sequence of the major ampullate dragline Spindroin 1 (Masp1) <i>Nephila clavipes</i> spider silk sequence ([SGRGGLGGQG AGAAAAAGGA GQGGYGGLGSQG]<sub>15</sub>X). The influence of the silk/chimera ratio was explored through the adjustment of the type and number of silicifying domains (denoted X above), and the results were compared with their non-chimeric counterparts and the silk from <i>Bombyx mori</i>. The effect of pH (3–9) on reactivity was also explored. Optimum conditions for rate and control of silica deposition were determined, and the solution properties of the silks were explored to determine their mode­(s) of action. For the silica–silk–chimera materials formed there is a relationship between the solution properties of the chimeric proteins (ability to carry charge), the pH of reaction, and the solid state materials that are generated. The region of colloidal instability correlates with the pH range observed for morphological control and coincides with the pH range for the highest silica condensation rates. With this information it should be possible to predict how chimeric or chemically modified proteins will affect structure and morphology of materials produced under controlled conditions and extend the range of composite materials for a wide spectrum of uses in the biomedical and technology fields.