New method can produce threads similar to real spider silk
Scientists have spent decades trying to mimic spider silk but their efforts to spin silk without spiders often resulted in a product that was far from being the original.
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Now, a team of Swedish researchers have found a way to replicate the unique properties of the spider silk thread. Researchers claim that the silk spun with new method appears more realistic than any other before and equals the toughness of the natural material.
The silk threads spun by spiders are 30 times thinner than a human hair and stronger even than Kevlar – a synthetic material strong enough to stop bullet and knives and the possibility of mimicking this strong material always attracts researcher’s interest.
The challenge that spiders face to produce this material is even more remarkable. When spinning, the spider secretes a protein solution through a narrow duct and converts it from a soluble form to solid fibers with increasing temperatures and changes in acidity. However, spiders themselves are notoriously difficult to farm and to produce large amount of silk. Therefore, large-scale productions have to rely on artificial spinning processes and silk protein.
Using this process, researchers have design an artificial spider silk that can be produced in large quantities in bacteria and also resembles the real spider silk for the first time. This has been done by using a simple but very efficient and biomimetic “spinning apparatus” which can replicate the pH changes that spiders use to make silk.
“This allowed us for the first time to spin artificial spider silk without using harsh chemicals," study co-author Jan Johansson of the Swedish University of Agriculture Sciences said.
Producing realistic spider silk was not possible before as most of the previous researches were focused on protein molecules instead of the procedure.
“This is the first successful example of biomimetic spider silk spinning,” said co-author Anna Rising.
“We have designed a process that recapitulates many of the complex molecular mechanisms of native silk spinning. In the future, this may allow industrial production of artificial spider silk for biomaterial applications or for the manufacture of advanced textiles.”