Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Strange Race for Industrial Spider Silk

German scientists announced a breakthrough in the race to produce synthetic spider silk, reports the BBC. Scientists are interested in coming up with a way to reproduce spider silk since its five-times stronger than steel, elastic and biodegradable.

Not only can super heroes swing through Manhattan on ropes made of spider silk, but imagine belts and t-shirts made out of this stuff. A single belt, or pair of shoe laces would last a family for generations.

Using new techniques, the German team is able to both observe how spiders make silk and "mimic this process." Spiders produce silk by forcing water-soluble proteins through small holes on their backside known as spinnerets. The German scientists produced silk by cultivating spider silk proteins from bacteria and forcing them through "channels etched into glass." These channels mix in salt solution (which condenses the protein) before spitting out a single, strong fiber.

However, we're not done yet. Said one British expert, none of the German team's results "were of a particularly high quality." However, the team's research "adds a piece to the puzzle."
In the past, researchers have used some very bizarre methods to recreate spider silk. For example, a Canadian team implanted a spider gene into goat eggs so the animals would produce spider silk in their milk. Pound360 is not making this up. According to the BBC, "the technique was successful but the company later abandoned the research." The report didn't explain exactly why the research was abandoned.

Pound360 wonders if it had something to do with the occasional monster goat being born. Come on, there had to have been a couple goats with eight legs or ten eyes, right?

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.