Scientists Crack Secret of Silk

Silkworms

A Tufts University team has figured out how spiders and silkworms spin such strong silk, which could have far-reaching implications for everything from hospital dressings to body armor.

bq. While humans have relied on silk for more than 2,000 years, scientists have never been able to unravel the mystery of how spiders and silkworms produced their incredibly strong fibers – until now. In a newly published study, Tufts researchers discovered the mechanism for production of strong silk, providing critical new information about nature�s strongest fiber.

Read the full article at Tufts e-news.

At Slashdot, AEton writes “Researchers at Tufts University have reportedly discovered the mechanism by which spidersilk is produced. Besides the obvious use as a Kevlar substitute in bulletproof vests, silk has applications in microprocessor production, nanoscale optical fiber, a and any other application requiring strength and flexbility. Scientists have long grappled with the issue of creating silk; artificial silk is inferior to the real stuff, and the spiders can’t be farmed (when you put them too close together, they eat each other). The method these Tufts researchers have found makes “strong silk” production feasible; if they can make it economical, the impact on safety equipment alone makes this material a worthwhile investment.”

David L. Kaplan and Hyoung-Joon Jin, who unraveled the silkworm’s secret (Scientific American), noted “this finding could lead to the development of processing methods resulting in new high-strength and high-performance materials used for biomedical applications, and protective apparel for military and police forces.”

Last January, scientists had already figuredhow to spin spider’s silk using goats engineered to produce the spider silk proteins in their milk. Future applications of harvested silk could include medical sutures, high-strength composites and soft body armor.

bq. Few things appear as delicate as a spider’s web, each gossamer strand one-tenth the width of a human hair. Yet pound for pound, the sturdiest spider silks are stronger than steel and stretchier than nylon. With such remarkable properties, it’s no wonder that researchers have made numerous attempts to synthesize spider silk for industrial and medical applications. (Efforts to farm the arachnids have failed as a result of their territorial nature.) Indeed, in the words of one scientist, this goal has long stood as the “Holy Grail of material science.”

Spider Silk Modulus

Nexis Biotechnologies Inc., a Canadian company, is developing BioSteel(r), spider’s silk synthesized in goat’s milk as proteinic draglines. Silkworm’s silk rivals that of spider’s, and with the technology to synthesize silk from both insects, material science has found it’s Holy Grail.