Stronger than Steel, Tougher than Kevlar

Spider silk is said to be one of the strongest, toughest materials on the Earth. Now engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have designed amyloid silk hybrid proteins and produced them in engineered bacteria. The resulting fibers are stronger and tougher than some natural spider silks.

To be precise, the artificial silk — dubbed “polymeric amyloid” fiber — was not technically produced by researchers, but by bacteria that were genetically engineered in the lab of Fuzhong Zhang, a professor in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering.

Zhang has worked with spider silk before. In 2018, his lab engineered bacteria that produced a recombinant spider silk with performance on par with its natural counterparts in all of the important mechanical properties.

After our previous work, I wondered if we could create something better than spider silk using our synthetic biology platform,” Zhang said.

The research team, which includes first author Jingyao Li, a PhD student in Zhang’s lab, modified the amino acid sequence of spider silk proteins to introduce new properties, while keeping some of the attractive features of spider silk.

A problem associated with recombinant spider silk fiber — without significant modification from natural spider silk sequence — is the need to create β-nanocrystals, a main component of natural spider silk, which contributes to its strength. “Spiders have figured out how to spin fibers with a desirable amount of nanocrystals,” Zhang said. “But when humans use artificial spinning processes, the amount of nanocrystals in a synthetic silk fiber is often lower than its natural counterpart.

Their research was published in the journal ACS Nano.

Source: https://source.wustl.edu/

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