An incredible new discovery about spider silk could have major technological implications.
A team of researchers has just cracked a big mystery about spider silk that could allow us to create it in the lab.
Spider silk is known for its strength despite its incredible thinness, but the mystery had always been how it remains taut even when stretched. Now, a team of researchers think they have the answer, according to University of Oxford statement.
The study found that tiny droplets of watery glue coating the silk work as a spool, reeling in loose thread to keep it from sagging, resulting in a balance of elasticity and surface tension. Using this knowledge, researchers created a synthetic spider silk of sorts using plastic filaments that were coating in oil droplets.
It’s a huge discovery that could have major technological implications. A synthetic spider silk would be like a “liquid wire,” resulting in an incredibly strong material with lots of applications in industry, engineering, and medicine.
The researchers wrote that the bio-inspired hybrid threads could be manufactured from just about anything, and could lead to the creation of complex structures, reversible micro-motors, and other incredible new designs.
“The thousands of tiny droplets of glue that cover the capture spiral of the spider’s orb web do much more than make the silk sticky and catch the fly,” Professor Fritz Vollrath of the Oxford Silk Group in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University said in the statement. “Surprisingly, each drop packs enough punch in its watery skins to reel in loose bits of thread. And this winching behaviour is used to excellent effect to keep the threads tight at all times, as we can all observe and test in the webs in our gardens.”
Added Hervé Elettro, the first author and a doctoral researcher at Institut Jean Le Rond D’Alembert, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris: “Spider silk has been known to be an extraordinary material for around 40 years, but it continues to amaze us. While the web is simply a high-tech trap from the spider’s point of view, its properties have a huge amount to offer the worlds of materials, engineering and medicine. Our bio-inspired hybrid threads could be manufactured from virtually any components. These new insights could lead to a wide range of applications, such as microfabrication of complex structures, reversible micro-motors, or self-tensioned stretchable systems.”