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2015 News in Brief



Spinning a new version of spider silk

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PHOTO: Molecular-level simulations of different lengths of silk molecules called fibroins, after being exposed to flow to simulate a spider's spinning process, reveal the key importance of the length of the molecular chains in achieving well-bonded fibers. At left, the fibroins have a length of 4 units, and, at right, 12 units. Below each “snapshot” of the simulation is a diagram showing the connections between units. The longer chains produce a much stronger fiber.

A team of researchers led by CEE Department Head Markus Buehler has succeeded in producing samples of spider silk, an exceptionally strong and resilient material, in the laboratory. The new synthetic fibers’ proteins were created by genetically modifying bacteria to mimic the traditional proteins produced by spiders. This research, a blend of simulations and experiments, “paves the way for creating new fibers with improved characteristics beyond those of natural silk,” said Buehler. Published this week in the journal Nature Communications, this work presents a new way to generate strong and tough materials from abundant resources and at low energy, and could lead to a variety of new bio-inspired materials – including new composites, or sutures and scaffolding for organ replacements. For the article, please see here.