Scientists have created a cheaper, simpler and twice as strong synthetic version of spider silk – but the process was still wholly inspired by nature.
Jan Johansson, Anna Rising and team looked at the way spiders spin their webs, then mimicked it.
“Spider silk is made up of long chains of linked protein molecules,” the study explains. “Inside silk glands, the proteins used to make the silk are kept in a very concentrated solution”.
When spinning silk, the spider secretes the protein solution through a narrow duct. Along the length of this duct, the acidity changes and the pressure increases, causing the protein molecules to link up in the chains that form the silk fiber.
The researchers designed a spinning device that mimics the narrow duct and acidity changes met by silk protein in spider glands.
“Using this device on a special protein — a hybrid of two natural silk proteins that can be manufactured in a highly concentrated form — enabled the authors to produce artificial spider silk that has greater strength and elasticity than other artificial silks, and that is nearly as strong as natural spider silk,” the study reads.
One litre of the protien produced by this method is enough to make a kilometre of silk – cheaper and easier to obtain than natural spider silk, and will potentially allow for the production of large amounts of silk for applications such as high-performance textiles and advanced medical devices.