Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Silk as Strong as Steel?

Have you ever had a piece of silk clothing or silk textiles that you loved, but over the years you found that it has grown weak and old. Even though Silk is one of the strongest and durable fibers it can have its limits and can still be ruined. However there is a certain type of silk out there that is even stronger than steel. Latrodectus hesperus or more commonly known as Black widow spiders are able to create their webs out of silk that are even stronger than steel due to the protein transformation that occurs within them. If scientists are able to figure out how this process works then we may be able to create strong synthetic materials just as strong as the black widows webs.

In a recent study researchers at Northwestern University and San Diego State have better unraveled the complex process in which black widow spiders transform their proteins into their steel strength fibers. Scientists have known for a long time about the primary sequence of amino acids that make up spider silk proteins and they have understood the structure of the fibers. It has been theorized that spider silk proteins go through a spinning process as a nano size amphiphilic spherical micelles which are clusters of water soluble and insoluble molecules, before being funneled through the spinning apparatus. When scientists tried to replicate this process they were unable to create material that was the same strength as the black widow’s fibers. Scientists had to look deeper into the protein gland to see what was actually going on, by using Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, followed by electron microscopy they were able to see the protein gland more closely. What they found was a more complex hierarchical protein assembly, it turns out that the simple spherical micelles were instead a more complex compound micelles which may be required to create the black widow’s strong fibers.

If the spider’s web are able to be duplicated successfully then the practical applications for a strong material like that is very expansive. The strong material could be used in textiles for the military, first responders and athletes, it can be used as building materials for cable bridges and even as a green method to get rid of plastic. Being able to replicate a black widow’s process in making their strong fibers would be a huge advancement benefiting almost everyone. Scientists are still trying to crack the process but when they do the benefits will be great, even your favorite silk clothing will be as strong as steel and more durable than ever.

Posted by "Edwin Montecinos"

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