Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Tufts University Bioengineers Discover Secret Of Spider, Silkworm Fiber Strength

Date:
September 3, 2003
Source:
Tufts University
Summary:
Tufts University bioengineers have discovered how spiders and silkworms are able to spin webs and cocoons made of incredibly strong fibers. The answer lies in how they control the silk protein solubility and structural organization in their glands.

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. – Tufts University bioengineers have discovered how spiders and silkworms are able to spin webs and cocoons made of incredibly strong fibers. The answer lies in how they control the silk protein solubility and structural organization in their glands.

Related Articles


"This finding could lead to the development of processing methods resulting in new high-strength and high-performance materials used for biomedical applications, and protective apparel for military and police forces," said David Kaplan, professor and chair of biomedical engineering, and director of Tufts' Bioengineering Center.

"We identified key aspects of the process that should provide a roadmap for others to optimize artificial spinning of silks as well as in improved production of silks in genetically engineered host systems such as bacteria and transgenic animals," said Kaplan, also a professor of chemical and biological engineering.

He and former postdoctoral fellow Hyoung-Joon Jin published their findings, "Mechanism of Processing of Silks in Insects and Spiders," in the Aug. 28 issue of the international science journal Nature.

The research was funded with $1 million from the National Institutes of Health Dental Institute and $200,000 from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Kaplan collaborated with Tufts colleagues across the University – from chemical, biological and biomedical to the veterinary and dental schools.

Silk is the strongest natural fiber known, but its strength has yet to be replicated in a laboratory. One reason may be the previous lack of understanding how spiders and silkworm process the silk.

The Tufts team has identified the way that spiders and silkworms control the solubility, concentration and structure of the proteins in their glands that spin the silk.

According to Kaplan, silk proteins are organized into pseudo-micelle or soap-like structures that form globular and gel states during processing in the glands. This semi-stable state, with sufficiently entrapped water and liquid crystalline structures, prevents the proteins from crystallizing too early, until the spinning process.

The structures formed in the process can be easily converted artificially into fibers with physical shear (moving the silk gel between two plates of glass) or during fiber spinning in the native process. The control of water content and structure development are essential because premature crystallization of the protein could cause a permanent blockage of the spinning system, leading to catastrophic consequences for the spider or silkworm.

This process, when combined with the novel polymer design features in silk proteins, retains sufficient water to keep the protein soluble, while allowing the protein to self-organize and reach spinnable concentrations. Achieving sufficient concentration of protein is key to the proper spinning of fibers and to the spider's and silkworm's survival.

Kaplan says this new insight into silk processing could result in:

* New high-strength and high-performance materials such as sports equipment, hiking gear and protective clothing for law enforcement;

* New biomaterial applications for cell growth in tissue engineering, as well as general biomaterial needs for tissue and organ repair;

* Environmentally sound processes to generate fibers and films from these types of polymers, since the entire process occurs in water.

"Kaplan's research is distinctive because it addresses a fundamental problem common to all prior research in this field," said Jamshed Bharucha, Tufts provost and senior vice president.

In 2002, Kaplan and his team of researchers from Tufts' schools of engineering and medicine developed a tissue engineering strategy to repair one of the world's most common knee injuries -- ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) -- by mechanically and biologically engineering new ones using silk scaffolding for cell growth. This ligament at the center of the knee connects the leg to the thigh and stabilizes the knee joint in leg extension and flexion.

Approximately 200,000 ACL surgeries were done in the U.S. in 2001, costing an estimated $3.5 billion, plus another $200 million for subsequent therapy. The costs associated with surgery can range from $10,000 to $25,000 per procedure, and up to $1,200 in physical therapy.

Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the University's eight schools is widely encouraged.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Tufts University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Tufts University. "Tufts University Bioengineers Discover Secret Of Spider, Silkworm Fiber Strength." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 September 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/09/030903075044.htm>.
Tufts University. (2003, September 3). Tufts University Bioengineers Discover Secret Of Spider, Silkworm Fiber Strength. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/09/030903075044.htm
Tufts University. "Tufts University Bioengineers Discover Secret Of Spider, Silkworm Fiber Strength." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/09/030903075044.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

AFP (Nov. 23, 2014) The arable district of Kenema in Sierra Leone -- at the centre of the Ebola outbreak in May -- has been under quarantine for three months as the cocoa harvest comes in. Duration: 01:32 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Newsy (Nov. 22, 2014) For the first time Monterey Bay Aquarium recorded a video of the elusive, creepy and rarely seen anglerfish. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Around the World Take Flight

Birds Around the World Take Flight

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 22, 2014) An imperial eagle equipped with a camera spreads its wings over London. It's just one of the many birds making headlines in this week's "animal roundup". Jillian Kitchener reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins