After years of struggling, a team of Swedish researchers from the Karolinska Institutet and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences announced that they have succeeded in producing artificial spider silk. The natural silk is one of the strongest materials found in nature. The artificial one produced in the laboratory is even stronger and it may be used to create bulletproof vests or in sutures.
The production of the fibers was a difficult process, but now researchers found a way to create thousands of meters of thread material. It provides a high variety of advantages. The body tolerates it well when implanted in tissues for sutures, it is thin (30 times thinner than a human hair) but incredibly strong, it’s biodegradable, and its uses are so diverse that even violin strings are made out of it.
Other uses of the spider silk are in bulletproof clothing, wear-resistant lightweight clothing, parachutes, nets, ropes, seat belts, rust-free panels on motor vehicles, biodegradable bottles, bandages and surgical thread, artificial tendons, support for blood vessels.
The discovery of the technique to create artificial spider silk is a scientific breakthrough, since other ways of producing silk thread on a larger scale are difficult to almost impossible. Spiders are really difficult to farm, as they are prone to eat each other. They also produce small quantities of silk at a time.
The production of artificial spider silk involves the use of proteins in E.coli bacteria and a spinning system that mimics the pH changes that occur in the spiders while producing silk. Spider silk is the result of proteins that are stored in a water-based form in the silk glands from where they are spun into fibers.
The process of creating artificial spider silk has been difficult so far since scientists could not recreate the same watery silk protein. However, by using proteins in E.coli bacteria, they succeeded in copying the spider’s proteic pattern and recreating genetically accurate silk cultures.
The research was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology and featured even photos and videos of the process. The production of artificial spider silk is of advantage not only for the medical field, but also for the clothing industry, in the car manufacturing business and even in the field on music instrument production.
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