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Scientists' breakthrough with artificial spider silk

Scientists' breakthrough with artificial spider silk
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Spider silk is one of the strongest materials known to man.

A strand just 3 cm thick would be able to stop a speeding train.

But despite huge efforts by scientists to recreate this material, that spiders have been making for millennia, the ability to manufacture silk in a lab has proved illusive.

That is until now, researchers from the University of Bayreuth in Bavaria, Germany say they have created an artificial spider silk as durable as the real thing with the help of bacteria found in the guts of humans and animals.

Professor Thomas Scheibel is leading the team, “The special properties of spiders’ fibres are their enormous toughness” he says. “So it’s a combination of strength and elasticity, which means that a spider silk fibre can take much more energy before it ruptures, in comparison to any other fibre, man-made or natural.”

While artificial silk is not quite as strong as natural spider silk, it is even more elastic. Its toughness – a measure of both strength and elasticity – matches the real stuff. The present fibre prototypes are smooth to the touch and they shine like silk. They are brilliant white and can be dyed with common techniques used in the textile industry. Because of its biocompatability, the silk used in the process could have a variety of uses.

Next up, the team is working on combining mouse cells with the artificial spider silk to create living cells that would develop cardiac muscles, skin or nerve tissue.