Photo by Luc Viatour
Spider silk may seem fragile, but it actually has a tensile strength that is a whopping five times more than steel! Scientists have been trying to replicate and harness the properties of the elusive material for years and now researchers from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen and the University of Bayreuth have actually unlocked the secret of how spiders construct the elastic fibers. Armed with this new knowledge, they’re planning to build an artificial spinning apparatus that will mimic a spider’s silk glands, which could eventually lead to a material that could have an unlimited number of applications from medical to construction.
Photo by Tanakawho
Spider silk is made up of protein chains comprised of stable connections that make is strong interspersed with unlinked areas that make it flexible. What scientists have been trying to figure out is how the molecules in the silk can be housed so close together within the silk gland without clumping. The team at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen and the University of Bayreuth have found the control element that prevents bunching in the silk which is a huge step forward in being able to replicate the material.
Of the finding, Thomas Scheibel of the team says, “Under storage conditions in the silk gland these control domains are connected pair-wise in such a way that the interlinking areas of both chains can not lie parallel to each other. Interlinking is thus effectively prevented.”
Franz Hagn, also of the team explains “Our results have shown that the molecular switch we discovered at the C-terminal end of the protein chain is decisive, both for safe storage and for the fiber formation process.”