Spiders

Scientists reveal how spiders make their silk

We're one step closer to cracking an engineering enigma.

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Scientists are one step closer to recreating spider silk — one of nature's most powerful engineering tools.

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Spider webs are made up of proteins called spidrons about 0.003 millimeters thick — 20 times thinner than a strand of human hair.

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But if it was just one millimeter thick — the size of a pinhead — an adult human could swing from a single thread.

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So it’s no surprise humanity has been trying to recreate spider silk for manufacturing ultra-strong materials.

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Spider silk starts as a slushy mash of spidron proteins called 'dope.'

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The silk ends up as a tightly woven strand of dehydrated proteins. But scientists couldn't figure out some of the in-between mechanisms.

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Now, a team of researchers have published a paper in Science Advances elucidating the process for the first time.

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The slush of spidrons get pushed through the spider’s innards, slowly losing water and assembling into an orderly line, according to the paper.

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The dehydration process is helped along by salts — in this study, the researchers used potassium phosphate to separate the liquid from the proteins.

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At some point before exiting the spider’s backside, the pH of the mixture drops, becoming more acidic, the study finds.

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The acidification process allows the spidron proteins to lock together in a strong bond.

The study doesn't flesh out the entire process, but the results are promising.

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When we do crack the code for spider silk, engineers will rejoice.

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Read more science and nature stories here.

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