Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists unravel the mysterious mechanics of spider silk

Date:
March 2, 2011
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
Scientists now have a better understanding of why spider silk fibers are so incredibly strong. Recent research describes the architecture of silk fibers from the atomic level up and reveals new information about the molecular structure that underlies the amazing mechanical characteristics of this fascinating natural material.

Spiderweb with dew droplets. Scientists now have a better understanding of why spider silk fibers are so incredibly strong.
Credit: iStockphoto/Emil Jacobsen

Scientists now have a better understanding of why spider silk fibers are so incredibly strong. Recent research, published on February 15th in Biophysical Journal, describes the architecture of silk fibers from the atomic level up and reveals new information about the molecular structure that underlies the amazing mechanical characteristics of this fascinating natural material.

Spiders spin silk, which is remarkably strong and stretchy, to use in webs and to suspend themselves. "Silk fibers exhibit astonishing mechanical properties. They have an ultimate strength comparable to steel, toughness greater than Kevlar and a density less than cotton or nylon," explains senior study author Dr. Frauke Gräter from the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany. "Because silk fibers continue to outperform their artificial counterparts in terms of toughness, many studies have tried to understand the mechanical characteristics of these extraordinary natural fibers."

Scientists know that spider silk fibers consist of two types of building blocks, soft amorphous and strong crystalline components. Dr. Gräter's group wanted to develop a better understanding of the mechanical properties of spider silk fibers and implemented a multi-scale "bottom-up" computational approach that started at the level of the atoms that make up the amorphous and crystalline subunits and dissected the contributions of these building blocks. The group used both molecular simulations for studying individual and coupled subunits and finite element simulations for a comprehensive fiber model.

The researchers discovered that the soft amorphous subunits are responsible for the elasticity of silk and also help with the distribution of stress. The maximal toughness of silk requires a specific amount of crystalline subunits and is dependent on the way that these subunits are distributed in the fiber. Different structural architectures of the fiber subunits were tested for optimal mechanical performance. "We determined that a serial arrangement of the crystalline and amorphous subunits in discs outperformed a random or parallel arrangement, suggesting a new structural model for silk," says Dr. Gräter. Taken together, the findings provide a clearer understanding of the mechanical nature of spider silk fibers and may be useful for design of artificial silk fibers.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Murat Cetinkaya, Senbo Xiao, Bernd Markert, Wolfram Stacklies, Frauke Gräter. Silk Fiber Mechanics from Multiscale Force Distribution Analysis. Biophysical Journal, Volume 100, Issue 5, 1298-1305, 2 March 2011 DOI: 10.1016/j.bpj.2010.12.3712

Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "Scientists unravel the mysterious mechanics of spider silk." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110301121958.htm>.
Cell Press. (2011, March 2). Scientists unravel the mysterious mechanics of spider silk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110301121958.htm
Cell Press. "Scientists unravel the mysterious mechanics of spider silk." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110301121958.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Since the arrival of Ebola in Ivory Coast, Ivorians have been abandoning their pets, particularly monkeys, in the fear that they may transmit the virus. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
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:
from the past week

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