A team of researchers from the Swedish University of Agriculture Sciences was successful in replicating a synthetic spider silk using a special spinning machine and a culture of genetically enhanced E.coli bacteria. Lab tests reveal that the synthetic spider silk is light, supple, and a couple of times stronger than steel.
A spider’s silk is, without a doubt, one of the strongest materials known to man. Although spider silk is 30 times thinner than a human hair, it has the tensile strength (a material’s property to support elongation) comparable to an alloy still. Also, spider silk is also stronger than Kevlar, a material used to produce bulletproof vests.
A spider’s ability to produce and spin silk is the result of an evolutionary process that spans over 380 million years. During this time, the spider has developed a unique silk-spinning apparatus. According to the latest research, the process of producing spider silk starts with the secretion of a specific protein fiber through a narrow duct.
During the protein secretion process, the narrow duct alters the proteins’ pressure and acidity. As a result, the proteins start to coalesce and to form a link. In other words, a spider’s silk is a never-ending chain of proteins.
Although spider silk is one of the strongest material found on Earth, it’s very difficult to synthesize and to farm. Before starting this experiment, the Swedish team studied the possibility of farming natural silk from live spiders.
Jan Johansson, the study’s co-author declared that spider farms can only produce a small amount of silk and that keeping the stock alive is quite difficult since spiders have the tendency of killing each other.
However, thanks to a new method of creating synthetic spider silk, researchers won’t need to use aggressive treatment to obtain spider silk.
According to Johansson, the method of creating resistant synthetic spider silk involves a batch of genetically altered E.coli bacteria and a spinning machine which mimics the spider’s natural silk-spinning abilities.
Johansson stated the batch of E.coli bacteria closely mimics the spider’s ability to determine the proteins to coalesce, and the spinning machine does the rest of the job. And their results are amazing – using just one liter of E.coli bacteria, the researchers were able to create more than one kilometer of synthetic silk.
The new material will have various applications – spinal cord repair, military, and can even be used in the textile industry to create stronger clothing.
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