Successfully Synthesizing Spider SilkCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: July 19, 2012 11:55AM
Steel is a strong metal, so it was surprising when Kevlar, a polymer, was actually stronger, but even it has superiors and one of them has been challenging researchers for a long time. Spider silk is an incredibly strong material that has been incredibly difficult to synthesize due to its complex chemistry and intricate fabrication within a spider. A recent video article on the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) goes step by step as a team of researchers successfully create black widow silk.
Black widow silk is comparable in strength to Kevlar, but is both lighter and less dense. Previous research teams have found ways to produce it with bacteria but have had issues with replicating the post-spin step. After the silk is made by the spider, it stretches it to align the molecules, which increases the silks tensile strength. Instead of relying on humans to stretch the silk, the researchers employed an actuator to precisely stretch the silk to the proper length.
Now that an in-lab production method has been developed, the researchers want to improve it for mass production. Once mass production is achieved we may see spider silk used in bullet-proof vests, to replace Kevlar and similar materials, in aircraft bodies, bridge cables, and medical sutures, to name a few possible uses.