Spider silk characteristics make it attractive for a wide variety of uses: It is stronger than steel, is tolerated well when implanted in tissue and it’s biodegradable. Harvesting the silk, however, has proven a hurdle. Spiders are difficult to keep captive, needless to say, and they produce small amounts of silk. Large-scale production requires artificial silk proteins and an effective spinning process.
A team of researchers led by Anna Rising from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Karolinska Institutet has developed a biomimetic (mimicking nature) spinning process to produce fibers that resemble real spider silk. They’ve constructed a simple, efficient biomimetic apparatus that can spin kilometer-long fibers.
The team’s research had revealed a specific pH gradient in the spider silk gland that ensures the silk fiber forms rapidly. The researchers applied this knowledge to a process that produces large quantities of spider silk protein in bacteria, making the process scalable. Because the new method creates water-soluble proteins, the system also avoids the use of solvents that were previously necessary in spinning processes.
The results were published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.