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PRESENT SITUATION OF SERICICULTURE IN SPAIN

As in other parts of Europe, the use of silk was known in Spain well in advance of its production. The use and properties of silk were documented in the middle of VII century, during the visigothic rule of Iberian Peninsula. Silworm rearing was probably introduced by the arabs, and the first references on this activity can be dated around the X century, with a progressive expansion in several regions of the country. A text in the mid of XII century mentions the existence of 8000 silk looms in Almeria. The highest expansion of the industry occurs from the XIV to the XVIII centuries. At the begining of the last one, a total of 12.000 Tms of raw cocoon are recorded for all Spain, distributed in the regions of Valencia (6.000 Tms), Andalucia (4.000 Tms), Murcia (2.000 Tms) and others of minor production (Castille, Aragon and Catalonia). From this moment on, the silkworm industry suffers a progressive decadence until the middle of the XIX century, when the epidemy of the silkworm disease known as “pebrine” (Nosema bombycis) produces, as in other countries of Europe, a deep crisis that reduces dramatically the activity of the industry. After this crisis, the activity is located only in the Region of Murcia, in the Southeast part of the country. In order to control adequately the disease, it was required a higer level of sanitary control and a general improvement of rearing technology. For this aim, in 1892 it was established in Murcia the Sericicultural Station of Murcia, following the model of the Sericicultural Station of Padova (Italy). The Sericicultural Station provided to the farmers new improved silkworm races of good sanitary condition, mulberry trees, technical advice and so on. This improvement in technology allowed to reach productions above 1.000 Tms of raw cocoon a year during the period from 1900 to 1930. In the decade of 1930s, the fall of international prices and the national and international wars almost caused the total collapse of the industry, that had a fast recovery in the 1940s. The production of raw cocoon was stabilized around 500 Tms in the decades of 50s and 60s. Finally, the silk from Murcia could not compete commercially with the one produced in the Asian continent and the commercial production was finished completely in 1976. After that the Sericultural Station of Murcia oriented its activity towards research and development in agriculture and food industry and evolved to what is now the Murcian Institute of Agricultural Research and Development (IMIDA), ascribed to the regional government of the Region of Murcia.
The impressive developments in the field of cellular therapy and tissue engineering around the decade of 2010s demanded the creation of a new generation of biomaterials to be used as scaffolds for cellular growth. Silk fibroin showed to be one of the most adequate biomaterials for this task in terms of biocompatibility, mechanical strength, surface chemical activity and controlled reabsorbtion. So, new possibilities arose for the silk apart from its traditional textile use. As a consequence, the IMIDA decided to assign resources to open a new line of research in this field, starting around 2007. Through the interaction with laboratories with expertise in regenerative medicine and science of the materials, the IMIDA acquired the basic technology of silk processing and widened the field of potential applications to production of recombinant protein in the larvae and obtaining of silk and mulberry bioproducts with biomedical potential. This line is well consolidated at present with the building of a new laboratory specifically designed to rear silkworms and obtain fibroin of biotechnological grade, fabricate scaffolds and test them with cell cultures. At the same time, new researchers have been incorporated to the line and many collaborative projects have been started. At present, four areas of research are being developed:
a) Development of silkworm rearing in GMP conditions and development of new protocols to process sericin and fibroin of biotechnological grade.
b) Development of fibroin scaffolds to be seeded with stem cells in their diverse configurations: films for ocular reparation; sponges for bone reparation and electrospun nanofiber mats for skin substitutes.
c) Development of micro and nanoparticles for controlled and localized delivery of antiinflammatory and antitumoral drugs
d) Production of recombinant protein using the pupa as a bioreactor, after inoculation with baculovirus expression vectors.

The overall aim of this project is to develop an integrated platform able to produce natural and recombinant proteins to supply the biomedical and biotechnological sector. The intrinsical low cost and scalability of silkworm rearing and the synergies of the integration of the different uses can reduce the cost of a wide array of bioproducts. This fact will provide a profit for the exploitation of the platform as well as substantial savings for the final consumers.

BACSA national coordinator in Spain and Person of Contact:
Dr. José L. Cenis
Department of Biotechnology
IMIDA
c/ Mayor, 1
30150 La Alberca (Murcia)
Spain
Tel: +34 968 366781
e-mail: josel.cenis@carm.es
www.imida.es

 


 


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