Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Bioengineered silkworms with butterfly cytotoxin-modified silk glands produce sericin cocoons with a utility for a new biomaterial.

PMID 28607081


Genetically manipulated organisms with dysfunction of specific tissues are crucial for the study of various biological applications and mechanisms. However, the bioengineering of model organisms with tissue-specific dysfunction has not progressed because the challenges of expression of proteins, such as cytotoxins, in living cells of individual organisms need to be overcome first. Here, we report the establishment of a transgenic silkworm (Bombyx mori) with posterior silk glands (PSGs) that was designed to express the cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae) cytotoxin pierisin-1A (P1A). P1A, a homolog of the apoptosis inducer pierisin-1, had relatively lower DNA ADP ribosyltransferase activity than pierisin-1; it also induced the repression of certain protein synthesis when expressed in B. mori-derived cultured cells. The transgene-derived P1A domain harboring enzymatic activity was successfully expressed in the transgenic silkworm PSGs. The glands showed no apoptosis-related morphological changes; however, an abnormal appearance was evident. The introduced truncated P1A resulted in the dysfunction of PSGs in that they failed to produce the silk protein fibroin. Cocoons generated by the silkworms solely consisted of the glue-like glycoprotein sericin, from which soluble sericin could be prepared to form hydrogels. Embryonic stem cells could be maintained on the hydrogels in an undifferentiated state and proliferated through stimulation by the cytokines introduced into the hydrogels. Thus, bioengineering with targeted P1A expression successfully produced silkworms with a biologically useful trait that has significant application potential.