A team of Swedish researchers has developed a method of spinning artificial spider silk to produce a kilometre-long thread. Amy Pollock reports.
This is one of the strongest natural materials known to man - spider silk. And it's being produced in a lab with no help from the eight-legged arachnids. Swedish researcher Marlene Andersson went back to the source to find the best way to spin their own silk. SOUNDBITE (English) RESEARCHER ANNA RISING, SAYING: "She dissected glands, silk glands from the spiders, and then she used ion-selective micro-electrodes - these are really tiny electrodes - that she used to determine the conditions along the glands. So we could see what changed along the glands and what factors trigger the polymerization process." The scientists from the University of Agricultural Sciences and the Karolinska Institute use an artificial protein produced in large quantities in bacteria. Artificial silk fibres form as soon as the protein is pumped through small tubing into an acidic, low pH solution. The team has produced strands of silk up to a kilometre long. The strength and elasticity of the silk make it suitable for medicinal use. SOUNDBITE (English) RESEARCHER JANNE JOHANSSON, SAYING: "It could be used as scaffolds for growing cells and tissues to implant in human bodies to replace and restore malfunctioning tissues in organs, which is called regenerative medicine." The artificial silk is not expensive to create, prompting hopes that production could be scaled up. SOUNDBITE (English) RESEARCHER MARLENE ANDERSSON, SAYING: "I think it could be a cost-effective solution, the way that we spin, since we don't need any expensive chemicals to spin the protein." The next step for the researchers is to match the strength of natural spider silk.