Swedish researchers managed to produce an artificial Spider-man silk that might be stronger than steel. The silk could soon be used in everything — from bulletproof clothing to strong sutures according to the scientists.
In recent years, it has been a struggle for researchers to mass-produce the fibers. This time, though, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Karolinska Institutet have developed a method that allows them to produce kilometer long threads of the material.
According to the Daily Mail, Spider silk is a material that has many advantages. It is lightweight but stronger than steel. The silk can be implanted in tissues for sutures. In fact, it was already used to make violin strings and it is biodegradable.
However, spiders are not easy to keep in captivity. Furthermore, they only spin small amounts of silk, so it’s a breakthrough producing them on a large scale.
On the other hand, large-scale productions of spider silk would still involve the use of artificial silk proteins and spinning processes. The researchers reportedly used a biomimetic spinning process — imitating nature — to manufacture fibers that are similar to real spider silk.
Spider-Man Silk’s Breakthrough
Proteins made up spider silk and are stored as a water-based solution in a spider silk gland, before it gets swirled into a fiber. Until now, though, it’s still impossible to make artificial spider silk. That is because of the difficulties in attaining similar watery spider silk proteins.
The good news is that researchers have managed to discover a method using artificial proteins. It could be produced in large quantities in bacteria. “To our surprise, this artificial protein is as water soluble as the natural spider silk proteins, which means that it is possible to keep the proteins soluble at extreme concentrations,” said one of the lead researchers of the study, Dr. Anna Rising.
Rising and her group previously discovered that there is an impressive pH gradient in the spider silk gland. The pH level constitutes to how acidic or not a substance is. Case in point, the lower the pH, the more acidic something is.
“This is the first successful example of biomimetic spider silk spinning. We have designed a process that recapitulates many of the complex molecular mechanisms of native silk spinning. In the future, this may allow industrial production of artificial spider silk for biomaterial applications or for the manufacture of advanced textiles.”