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 The stacked colour sensor
16.11.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

nachricht Counterfeits and product piracy can be prevented by security features, such as printed 3-D microstructures
16.11.2017 | Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>