Scientists create new version of spider silk

Washington, May 29: Spinning a major success for the textile industry, researchers have now succeeded in producing samples of spider silk in the laboratory.

Researchers have been studying for years to decode the complex structure and production of spider silk.


This study could inspire the development of new synthetic fibres -- or any materials requiring enhanced properties, such as electrical and thermal transport, in a certain direction.

It may also lead to a variety of biomedical materials -- from sutures to scaffolding for organ replacements -- made from synthesised silk with properties specifically tuned for their intended uses.

"The research, which involved a combination of simulations and experiments, paves the way for creating new fibres with improved characteristics beyond those of natural silk," said Markus Buehler, professor of civil and environmental engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The findings will make it possible to design fibres with specific characteristics of strength, elasticity, and toughness.

The new synthetic fibre's proteins -- the basic building blocks of the material -- were created by genetically modifying bacteria to make the proteins normally produced by spiders.

These proteins were then extruded through microfluidic channels designed to mimic the effect of an organ, called a spinneret, that spiders use to produce natural silk fibres.

This project represents the first use of simulations to understand silk production at the molecular level.

"Our goal is to improve the strength, elasticity, and toughness of artificially spun fibres by borrowing bright ideas from nature," said Shangchao Lin from MIT.

The findings appeared in Nature Communications.


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