German scientists solve the mystery of spider silk toughness

(Science and Technology Daily reporter Liu Xia) Spider silk is currently known as the natural fiber with the highest elasticity and toughness. Its tensile strength is five times that of iron and three times that of the best man-made fibers. So, how can spiders use spider silk proteins stored in silk glands to produce long, stable, and elastic spider silk in a short time? Scientists from the Technical University of Munich and Bayreuth University in Germany revealed the secret in the journal Nature published on May 13.

Professor Horst Klein of the Technical University of Munich said that the elasticity and tensile strength of natural spider silk is unparalleled, and it can be used in many fields: from absorbable surgical suture materials to fibers used in the automation industry. If this puzzle is solved, it may help researchers develop stable artificial spider silk fibers.

Spider silk contains many protein molecules, which are long chains composed of thousands of amino acids. X-ray structural analysis shows that in certain areas of the spider silk fiber, several protein long chains are twisted together by stable physical links, thereby making the spider silk fiber very stable; the area where no link occurs allows the spider silk Fiber has high elasticity.

However, when the silk proteins were still in the spider's silk glands, although the high-density silk proteins were stored in a salt water-filled environment, the long chains of these silk proteins did not cluster and link. In the storage environment in the silk gland, Thomas Skabbe of the Department of Chemistry of Munich University of Technology explained that the interconnected areas of the two long chains are not placed in parallel, which effectively prevents the long chains from twisting.

When the silk proteins enter the spinning pipeline, they encounter an environment with completely different brine concentrations and compositions, which causes the long chains of these proteins to be aligned in parallel, so that the areas responsible for interlinking are side by side together, forming Stable spider silk.

Using microsystem technology, the researchers developed an artificial spinning pipe. At the same time, scientists at Bayreuth University are developing a bionic spinning device, hoping to produce artificial spider silk.

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