Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Arachnid Rapunzel: Researchers Spin Spider Silk Proteins Into Artificial Silk


New research on the structure of spider silk, presented at Biophysical Society Meeting this week in Baltimore, is advancing the development of artificial alternatives

Incredibly tough, slightly stretchy spider silk is a lightweight, biodegradable wonder material with numerous potential biomedical applications. But although humans have been colonizing relatively placid silkworms for thousands of years, harvesting silk from territorial and sometimes cannibalistic spiders has proven impractical. Instead, labs hoping to harness spider silk's mechanical properties are using its molecular structure as a template for their own biomimetic silks.

Jan K. Rainey

A closer look at spider silk

A team of researchers from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia is focusing on the toughest of the spider's seven types of silk—aciniform silk, used to wrap up prey that blunders into its web. Over the past few years, they have gradually unraveled its protein architecture and begun to understand the connection between its structure and function. They will present their latest findings at the 59th meeting of the Biophysical Society, held Feb. 7-11 in Baltimore, Md.

The first step in creating artificial spider silk is to replicate the proteins that make up the natural version, in this case by recombinantly expressing them in E. coli. The key protein in aciniform silk, AcSp1, has three parts. Most of the protein is a repeated sequence of about two hundred amino acids. Two tails called the N- and C-terminal domains hang off each end of the protein chain.

Jan Rainey's group at Dalhousie University used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to analyze the structure of AcSp1's repeat sequence at very high resolution, producing one of the first spider silk repeat unit structure sequences to be reported. When they then linked more repeats together, they learned that the repeat units behaved in a modular fashion. That is, each one acted as an individual unit, instead of taking on new structure by being connected to other units. Such modularity has important consequences: it means that scientists trying to engineer artificial silk proteins can vary the length of the protein without sacrificing the entire protein's function. Plus, it means that researchers can focus on optimizing smaller, more manageable protein components before linking them together to form a large functional protein.

The next step in creating artificial silk is to spin the proteins into long strands. Spiders have specialized equipment to accomplish this task, but finding the precise laboratory conditions that recreate this process is one of the biggest challenges of creating biomimetic silks. At least for the moment, spiders are more skillful spinners than humans.

However, the researchers have found a clue to the fiber formation process in the c-terminal domain.

They determined that although in some cases silk proteins can link into fibers without the c-terminal domain, the region in general helped with fiber formation -- fibers made of proteins with c-terminal domains tended to be tougher and stronger. In addition, the researchers found replacing the aciniform silk c-terminal domains with c-terminal domains from other types of spider silk also improved fiber formation. The findings suggested that the c-terminal domain could potentially be manipulated to adjust the strength and toughness of the fibers.

"Now we know that C-terminal domains are interchangeable," said researcher Lingling Xu. "This could be useful when we encounter expression problems while producing recombinant spidroins. For example, we could choose a C-terminal domain that has a better protein expression level, solubility or stability."

Artificial spider silk remains far from commercially viable, but advances in understanding of the relationship between spider silk's structure and its function are helping scientists inch closer to creating an alternative in the lab.

"Our future goal is to synthesize fibers with tunable mechanical properties based on our knowledge of the role of each domain," said Xu.

The poster, "Roles of spider wrapping silk protein domains in fibre properties" by Lingling Xu, Marie-Laurence Tremblay, Kathleen E. Orrell, Xiang-Qin Liu and Jan K. Rainey, will be displayed Tuesday, February 10, 2015, from 1:45 to 3:45 PM in Hall C of the Baltimore Convention Center. ABSTRACT:


Each year, the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting brings together more than 6,500 researchers working in the multidisciplinary fields representing biophysics. With more than 3,600 poster presentations, over 200 exhibits, and more than 20 symposia, the BPS Annual Meeting is the largest meeting of biophysicists in the world. Despite its size, the meeting retains its small-meeting flavor through its subgroup symposia, platform sessions, social activities and committee programs. The 59th Annual Meeting will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center.


The Biophysical Society invites professional journalists, freelance science writers and public information officers to attend its Annual Meeting free of charge. For press registration, contact Ellen Weiss at or Jason Bardi at 240-535-4954.


Main Meeting Page:
Itinerary planner:


The Biophysical Society, founded in 1958, is a professional, scientific Society established to encourage development and dissemination of knowledge in biophysics. The Society promotes growth in this expanding field through its annual meeting, bi-monthly journal, and committee and outreach activities. Its 9,000 members are located throughout the U.S. and the world, where they teach and conduct research in colleges, universities, laboratories, government agencies, and industry. For more information on the Society, or the 2015 Annual Meeting, visit .

Contact Information
Jason Socrates Bardi, AIP

Jason Socrates Bardi, AIP | newswise

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years
27.10.2016 | University of California - Los Angeles

nachricht 3-D-printed structures shrink when heated
26.10.2016 | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>