Synthetic Spider Silk at Utah State University
Spider webs are incredibly strong and flexible. It’s no surprise, then, that spider silk proteins may someday form durable artificial ligaments for people who have injured their knees or shoulders.
This research is taking place at Utah State University, under the leadership of a new USTAR professor, Randy Lewis.
Six different kinds of silk are produced by orb-web weaving spiders. These silk fibers have very different mechanical properties that are so effective they have changed very little over millions of years. How to synthetically develop these silks is one focus of Lewis’ research.
The secret to producing large quantities of spider silk is to use “factories” designed to manufacture spider silk proteins that are easily scale-able and efficient. .
"We then spin the proteins into fibers and test them for better properties," said Dr. Randy Lewis, team leader. "We also have produced genetically-modified goats that produce milk containing the spider silk proteins to aid us in our research."
– Dr. Randy Lewis
Lewis uses transgenic goats, E.coli bacteria, transgenic alfalfa and transgenic silk worms to produce the spider silk proteins used to create spider silk.
Spider silk is 100 times stronger than natural ligaments and 10 times stronger than natural tendons; it is stronger than Kevlar and more elastic than nylon.
Munro, T., Xing, C., Marquette, A., Ban, H., Copeland, C., and Lewis, R., “Description of Test Setup and Approach to Measure Thermal Properties of Natural and Synthetic Spider Silks at Cryogenic Temperatures,” International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition, November 15-21, 2013, San Diego, California.
Munro, T., Xing, C., Copeland, C., Ban, H., and Lewis, R., “Probing the Mysteries of Spider Silk’s Uncharacteristically High Thermal Diffusivity,” ASME Summer Heat Transfer Conference, July 14-19, 2013, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Xing, C., Munro, T., Jensen, C., And Ban, H., “Parametric Study on the Effect of Radiation Heat Loss and Nonconstant Heating in the Electrothermal Technique for Micro- to Nano-scale Fine Fiber Thermal Property Measurement,” MicroTech Conference, May 12-15, 2013, Gaylord National Harbor Maryland.
Munro, T., Xing, C., Jensen, C., Copeland, C., Ban, H., and Lewis, R., “Characterizing Thermal Diffusivity of Synthetic Spider Silk using Improved Transient Electrothermal Technique,” MicroTech Conference, May 12-15, 2013, Gaylord National Harbor Maryland.
Putman R, Rahman A, Barentine C, Halling A, Smith B, Rodriguez F, Martinez E, Harris T, Copeland C, Tramp C, Ellis JT, Miller K, Chandrasekar S, Abdinor J, and Miller CD. 2013. Arachnicoli: Production and Purification of Spider Silk Proteins in Escherichia coli. IBE annual Conference. Raleigh, NC.