Apparently there’s something about spider silk that makes it really strong and really hard to replicate. Scientists have gotten closer to being able to make silk-like material that’s “five times stronger than steel,” according to the BBC.
In the past, it’s been too difficult to produce artificial silk in large enough quantities to make it worthwhile, but scientist at the University of Munich have finally made some progress. They’re still not to the point of being able to mass-produce the stuff, but they’re getting closer.
Fritz Vollrath of the University of Oxford said, “It’s another important small step towards making the material. It adds a piece to the puzzle, but it’s a very big puzzle and there are many pieces missing.” Vollrath holds a patent on a similar process to the one announced by the team in Munich.
Once the process is perfected, the silk can be used for things like “medical applications such as sheaths to help nerve regrowth.”
The process thus far involves mimicking how a spider makes silk, which entails secreting water-soluble proteins “through tiny holes in their body – known as a spinneret – which extrude the thread.”
“To mimic this process, the team manufactured two genetically-engineered spider silk proteins using bacteria. These were fed into a device that consists of three channels etched into glass.
The protein is introduced from one channel and from the two other channels salt solutions are introduced.
The salt causes the proteins to clump together, which are then forced down a narrow channel that extrudes the mixture as a fibre.
The team extruded different grades of fibre using different combinations of proteins and salts.”