Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Spider silks, the ecological materials of tomorrow?

30.11.2004


Spider silks could become the intelligent materials of the future, according to a review article published this month in the journal Microbial Cell Factories. The characteristics of spider silk could have applications in areas ranging from medicine to ballistics.



The distinctive toughness of spider silk could allow manufacturers to improve wound-closure systems and plasters, and to produce artificial ligaments and tendons for durable surgical implants. The silk could also be woven into strong textiles to make parachutes, body armour, ropes and fishing nets. A whole range of ecological materials could emerge from the industrial production of spider silk.

Thomas Scheibel, from the Department of Chemistry of the Technische Universität in München explains that there are currently over 34,000 described species of spider, each with a specific tool-kit of silks with different mechanical properties serving specific purposes.


For example, major ampullate silk, a very tough silk with a tensile strength comparable to Kevlar, is used for the primary dragline or scaffolding of the spider’s web. Minor ampullate silk with its very low elasticity is used to reinforce the web, while the strong and stretchy flagelliform silk forms the capture spiral of the web.

Biotechnologists are currently analysing the properties of silk proteins and how they assemble into threads. Knowing exactly how silk fibers are formed and what mechanical properties result from different assembly processes could allow the manufacture of artificial spider silks with special characteristics such as great strength or biochemical activity.

“The future objective might not be to prepare identical copies of natural silk fibers, but rather to capture key structural and functional features in designs that could be useful for engineering applications” explains the author.

Spiders are territorial and cannibalistic and so impossible to farm. The only way to produce large quantities of silk is to engineer and insert silk genes into other cells or organisms. But this has been complicated by the nature of the genes, which include many repeated sequences and rely on a different codon reading system from ours. However, in recent studies parts of the genes were successfully inserted into the bacterium E. coli, mammal and insect cells, which in turn produced silk proteins.

“Using ‘protein engineering’ based on knowledge achieved from investigations of the natural silks, artificial proteins can be designed that allow bacterial synthesis at high yields” writes Scheibel in the article*.

Engineering new proteins would also allow the design of completely new types of silk fiber, which could assemble with biochemically or biologically active groups into new types of mesh. These ‘intelligent’ materials would then be able to carry out enzymatic reactions, chemical catalysis or electronic signal propagation, for example.

Before this can be achieved, the spinning of proteins into fibers has to be resolved. So far there have been a few attempts at spinning silk on silicon micro-spinnerets. The outcomes have been promising but are far from matching naturally produced silks. For the moment the fibers produced are too wide, with diameters ranging from 10 to 60mm, compared with diameters of 2.5 to 4.0mm in natural fibers.

Juliette Savin | alfa
Further information:
http://www.biomedcentral.com
http://www.microbialcellfactories.com/content/3/1/14

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Gelatine instead of forearm
19.04.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

nachricht Computers create recipe for two new magnetic materials
18.04.2017 | Duke University

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>