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Spider silk created from artificial gland

Swatches | June 1, 2024 | By:

The microfluidic device for the creation of artificial spider silk. The protein solution is placed at one end and then pulled toward the other end by means of negative pressure. As the solution flows through the microfluidic channels, it is exposed to precise changes in the chemical and physical environment and the solution’s components self-assemble into silk fibers. Image: RIKEN

Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science in Japan and the RIKEN Pioneering Research Cluster took a biomimicry approach to creating artificial spider silk. Their approach worked with microfluidics, or the manipulation of fluid through narrow channels, such as happens in a spider’s silk gland.

Spider silk is a biopolymer constructed of large proteins and molecular substructures that arrange themselves as they are extruded from the spider’s gland. Researchers created a device with tiny channels for the fluid to flow and, in doing so, make the fiber. They found that forcing the fluid down the channels didn’t work, but pulling the solution with negative pressure did.

“It was surprising how robust the microfluidic system was, once the different conditions were established and optimized,” says senior scientist Ali Malay, one of the paper’s co-authors. “Fiber assembly was spontaneous, extremely rapid and highly reproducible. Importantly, the fibers exhibited the distinct hierarchical structure that is found in natural silk fiber.”

The study was published Jan. 15, 2024, in the scientific journal Nature Communications. Next steps in the research are to evaluate the artificial spider silk and further improve the technology.

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