Spin doctors say scientists copy spider silk in lab

January 9, 2017
Artficial spider silk fibers rolled up on a frame. Credit: Marlene Andersson

Supple, light and biodegradable but stronger than steel: researchers said Monday they have succeeded in producing synthetic spider silk, one of nature's strongest materials.

Refined through the long process of evolution, the spun by spiders are 30 times thinner than a and stronger even than Kevlar, a synthetic fibre used in making bullet-proof vests.

Scientists have long strived to copy the unique properties of the threads—essentially long chains of linked .

When spinning, the spider secretes a protein solution through a narrow duct, along which the acidity changes and pressure increases, causing the molecules to link up and form chains.

But spiders are notoriously difficult to farm—producing small quantities of silk, and with a propensity for eating each other.

Now a team from Sweden said they have managed to copy the spider's feat using proteins in E.coli bacteria and a "spinning apparatus" which mimics 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 in Uppsala told AFP.

A nest of artificial spider silk fibers Credit: Lena Holm
"The high amounts of proteins produced in bacteria allow us to spin a kilometre of the biomimetic fibres from just one litre of E.coli culture."

The threads are bio-compatible and may prove useful in regenerative medicine, the team said.

They may be used, Johansson said, for or in growing stem cells to repair damaged hearts.

The invention may also be useful in the textile industry—to make even lighter and stronger body protection, for example.

The study was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

Biomimetic spinning of artificial spider silk. The protein solution is pumped through a glass capillary and into an aqueous buffer at pH 5. Credit: Marlene Andersson

Explore further: Silkworms spinning spider webs

More information: Nature Chemical Biology, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nchembio.2269

Related Stories

Silkworms spinning spider webs

January 3, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A spiders silk is strong and more elastic and has a large range of possible medical applications. However, spiders have a history of being territorial and prone to cannibalism, so the idea of having a large ...

Spiders sprayed with carbon nanotubes spin superstrong webs

May 6, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers working in Italy has found that simply spraying a spider with a carbon nanotube solution can cause the spider to spin stronger webs. In their paper they have uploaded to the preprint server ...

New partnership looks to industrialize spider silk production

September 15, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- For thousands of years, human beings have looked with envy upon the silk webs spun by spiders; not only are they stronger than steel but they are tougher too (a vest made of spider web material can stop bullets ...

Synthetic spider silk strong enough for a superhero

March 5, 2014

Spider silk of fantastical, superhero strength is finally speeding toward commercial reality—at least a synthetic version of it is. The material, which is five times stronger than steel, could be used in products from bulletproof ...

Recommended for you

Seeing small-molecule interactions inside cells

December 12, 2018

Like people in a large company, proteins in cells constantly interact with each other to perform various jobs. To develop new disease therapies, researchers are trying to control these interactions with small-molecule drugs ...

The stiffest porous lightweight materials ever

December 12, 2018

Researchers at ETH have developed and manufactured a family of architectures that maximises the stiffness of porous lightweight materials. It's practically impossible to develop stiffer designs.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.