Spinning a new version of spider silk

Jun 11, 2015

by Science Daily

After years of research decoding the complex structure and production of spider silk, researchers have now succeeded in producing samples of this exceptionally strong and resilient material in the laboratory. The new development could lead to a variety of biomedical materials — from sutures to scaffolding for organ replacements — made from synthesized silk with properties specifically tuned for their intended uses.

The findings are published this week in the journal Nature Communicationsby MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) Markus Buehler, postdocs Shangchao Lin and Seunghwa Ryu, and others at MIT, Tufts University, Boston University, and in Germany, Italy, and the U.K.

The research, which involved a combination of simulations and experiments, paves the way for “creating new fibers with improved characteristics” beyond those of natural silk, says Buehler, who is also the department head in CEE. The work, he says, should make it possible to design fibers with specific characteristics of strength, elasticity, and toughness.

The new synthetic fibers’ 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 fibers.

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6 comments on “Spinning a new version of spider silk

  • Whatever else, I have to hand it to human ingenuity ! After nearly 4 billion years of life evolving, homo sapiens has come along, and in the last few hundred years, has started copying and imitating some of the wonders of nature.

    I wonder if bullet proof vests will be the first commercial offshoot of this amazing technology !

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  • She approached me through the candlelight. Her Byzantine silk robe was shot with all the colours which could be extracted from the soft, flickering yellow light. God, you’re beautiful, I breathed, and your robe, it’s fit for a Greek empress. As she slid it from her shoulders, she smiled, “Yes darling, I bought it in Aldi, it’s made from proteins created by genetically modified bacteria, then extruded through microfluidic channels, designed to mimic the effect of an organ.” I sighed wistfully: the death of romance.

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