Silk, Sericulture and Silk Proteins
Say the word: “silk”. Feel it roll off the tongue, conjuring images of smooth and soft.
Silken hair, silky skin, silky soft. The phrase ‘smooth as silk’ transcends continents, countries, and cultures. Everybody has heard the expression and seen products marketed on the smoothness of silk. The sensual pleasure of pure silk against the skin says it all.
For 5000 years, silk fibers have been woven to create beautiful fabrics. Silk was a closely guarded secret for centuries and an imperial Chinese decree banned the export of silk cocoons or eggs on pain of death. The legend says that somewhere around 552 monks smuggled out silkworm eggs and today, silk is cultivated and woven around the world.
An ancient Chinese fable describes the discovery of silk and the start of sericulture. One day, resting under the shade of the white mulberry tree, China’s “Yellow Empress” was transfixed by a cocoon that fell into her teacup and began to unravel. The Empress located the source of the cocoon – the mulberry silk moth – and began cultivating silkworms. According to legend, she invented the reel and loom to weave the threads into vibrant fabric.
From the earliest times, silk production was the domain of women. Chinese women harvested the cocoons of the silkworm - Bombyx Mori - and created thread. The exceptional qualities of silk fibres inspired them to design and fashion exquisite garments.
In the process, women discovered that handling silk cocoons had remarkable effects on their skin. The anti-aging, rejuvenating, and wound healing properties were clear. Long before science identified the silk proteins responsible, Chinese, Japanese and Thai women learned to rub the silk husks on their faces and enjoy the benefits of sericin and fibroin without ever knowing their names.
Sericin and Fibroin
In the late 1950s, scientists identified the silk proteins sericin and fibroin, confirming their properties and establishing potential uses. Cosmetic brands and pharmaceutical companies have recognized the potential of silk proteins. Their biocompatibility with human skin makes them ideal ingredients, including for biomaterials. But the supply chain has failed to meet industrial requirements.
Silk is a natural product that comes from a living organism and waste cocoons typically come from different sources. Complex technologies and extraction methods challenged large-scale extraction and production, limiting further development of these proteins.
Sericin is an excellent moisturising agent. Its amino acid composition is identical to the natural moisturizing factor (NMF), an important part of human skin structure, by restoring the natural amino acids. Sericin decreases the amount of water evaporating through the skin and increases hydroxyproline levels, the main component of collagen. It enhances skin elasticity, yielding anti-wrinkle and anti-aging effects through collagen stimulation and activation of collagen production both in vitro and in vivo.
And when it comes to hair, sericin is an excellent additive to formulas for hair care. It helps repair hair damage, promotes increased hair gloss, improves softness, and ease of combing. When applied to hair dye formulas, sericin helps preserve coloring.
Research suggests sericin fights or kills bacteria. Applying a sericin coating to indoor air filters can reduce the amount of toxic free radicals, fungi, and Micrococcus-type bacteria. It can treat skin wounds and has excellent potential for dissolvable micro-needles.
In clinical studies, sericin has exhibited biological activities such as cell proliferation. It can impact the rate at which bodies absorb fatty molecules and glucose. Sericin and fibroin can also stimulate cell migration through protein phosphorylation.
Fibroin, thanks to its almost linear structure that is arranged in a zig-zag shape with substituents to the side, can be used to make biocompatible material for medical applications and is US-FDA approved for sutures. It can be used to fabricate functional fiber or as an improving reagent or a coating material for natural and artificial fibers, and fabrics.
Fibroin is ideal for drug delivery as it can be cross-linked, copolymerized, and blended with other macromolecular materials, especially artificial polymers with high levels of skin biocompatibility to produce materials with improved properties.
Until recently, the limitation has been the ability to access industrial scale, and uniform quality of sericin and fibroin.
History has a way of repeating itself and even today, the silkworm continues to amaze us. From the Chinese Empress who brought silk to the world to a Thai woman who developed large-scale extraction and production processes to bring the benefits of the silk proteins to everyone.
Saimai Cunvong spent her youth surrounded by silk production. She remembers the silky soft skin of the women who worked the silk and dedicated her adult life to unraveling the mysteries of silk protein extraction.
The molecular structure of sericin and fibroin can be easily damaged during the silk production process. Quality, integrity of the properties, consistency, and sustainability of supply is not easily achieved. SeriTech has developed a scalable process to upcycle silk waste and extract natural silk proteins sericin and fibroin guaranteeing properties, quality, and bulk supply.
Saimai has secured a relationship with the largest silk producer in Thailand that brings together a cooperative of over 5000 silk farmers, the key to upcycling what was once considered a waste product, and creating a positive social impact. She understands that business activities affect the society and environment around us and works to ensure this impact is positive, at every stage of the supply chain.
This sustainable process is environmentally friendly, an essential ingredient for long-term value creation in every step in our processes. SeriTech ensures that partners share this philosophy and are committed to making a positive impact.
SeriTech is a pure player with a fully integrated supply chain and a technological capability to produce a wide range of silk protein raw ingredients. This process ensures consistency of supply and quality. Expertise and extensive involvement in the silk industry controls both the quality of the silk farm and silk waste. SeriTech guarantees a safe product.
SeriTech has a portfolio of different silk proteins and molecules of different molecular weights for different uses. The company has developed a range of premium, brand-ready, skincare products. The company partners with cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and biomedical companies, to implement sericin and fibroin in their manufacturing processes.
In bringing the natural silk proteins sericin and fibroin to the world, SeriTech aspires to create and inspire a new generation of minimalist products that align with modern values. With new offices in the Barcelona Scientific Park, Spain, an ambitious R&D program, partnerships with biomedical manufacturers, SeriTech aspires to deliver medicinal ingredients effectively, efficiently, and easily.