Artificial spider silk production could be a game changer

According to the Daily Mail online, there has been a breakthrough in artificial spider silk as researchers reveal mass production technique for threads ‘stronger than steel’.

A team of Swedish researchers have managed to produce artificial spider silk – and say it could soon be used in everything from bullet-proof clothing to sutures as strong as steel.

Researchers have struggled to mass produce the fibres, but now a team of researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Karolinska Institutet have developed a method that allows them to produce kilometre-long threads of the material.

Spider silk is a material that has many advantages: it’s well tolerated when implanted in tissues for sutures, it’s lightweight but stronger than steel, it’s biodegradable and it has even been used to make violin strings.

However, spiders are difficult to keep in captivity and they spin small amounts of silk, so being able to produce it at a large scale is a research breakthrough.

Any large-scale production of spider silk must involve the use of artificial silk proteins and spinning processes.

The researchers used a biomimetic spinning process to manufacture fibres that are similar to real spider silk.

The research, published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, also included videos and photos of the process.

Spider silk is made of proteins that are stored as a water-based solution in a spiders silk glands, before being spun into a fibre.

Until now, it wasn’t possible to make artificial spider silk because of difficulties in obtaining similar watery spider silk proteins. But the researchers managed to develop a method using artificial proteins that can be produced in large quantities in bacteria.

WHAT COULD SPIDER SILK BE USED FOR?
Spider silk could have applications in:
•    Bullet-proof clothing
•    Wear-resistant lightweight clothing
•    Ropes, nets, seat belts, parachutes
•    Rust-free panels on motor vehicles or boats
•    Biodegradable bottles
•    Bandages, surgical thread
•    Artificial tendons or ligaments, supports for weak blood vessels

Source: University of Bristol School of Chemistry