We're one step closer to cracking an engineering enigma.
Scientists are one step closer to recreating spider silk — one of nature's most powerful engineering tools.
Spider webs are made up of proteins called spidrons about 0.003 millimeters thick — 20 times thinner than a strand of human hair.
But if it was just one millimeter thick — the size of a pinhead — an adult human could swing from a single thread.
So it’s no surprise humanity has been trying to recreate spider silk for manufacturing ultra-strong materials.
Spider silk starts as a slushy mash of spidron proteins called 'dope.'
The silk ends up as a tightly woven strand of dehydrated proteins. But scientists couldn't figure out some of the in-between mechanisms.
Paul Klenk / 500px/500px/Getty Images
Now, a team of researchers have published a paper in Science Advances elucidating the process for the first time.
The slush of spidrons get pushed through the spider’s innards, slowly losing water and assembling into an orderly line, according to the paper.
The dehydration process is helped along by salts — in this study, the researchers used potassium phosphate to separate the liquid from the proteins.
gary tyler/Moment/Getty Images
At some point before exiting the spider’s backside, the pH of the mixture drops, becoming more acidic, the study finds.
The acidification process allows the spidron proteins to lock together in a strong bond.
Read more science and nature stories here.