Nanomaterials

Things that Nanomaterial Experts could learn from Black Widow Spiders

Black Widow spiders have been around quite long as human beings. Scientifically known as Latrodectus hesperus they are distributed worldwide in North/South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. In North America particularly, they are known as black widow spiders.

These spiders are a subject of interest to nanomaterial scientists because of their ability to produce arrays of silk with undisputed material properties. They spin nanoparticles into incredibly strong yet stretchy silk. For years now, scientists have tried to crack this complex process in order to produce similar technology in vain. Even with advanced technology emboldened with intensive research tools, this remains a challenge.

Research has not halted, however as nanomaterial experts are determined to unravel the techniques black widow spider uses. Scientists are in fact aware of the primary sequences of amino acids that form some spider silk proteins and comprehend the fiber and web structures. Researchers know what goes into the silk glands and spinning duct and what the finished product looks like. Many unsuccessful trials have been undertaken based on this information.

Recently, North western’s Nathan C. Gianneschi admitted that there was a gap since they could not relate completely the processes that go on at a nanoscale in the silk glands, the spinning duct and subsequent storage, transformation and transportation processes involved in these proteins becoming fibers. It is evident that researchers are trying to catch up. A research team that included Gianneschi and Gregory P. Holland was able to more closely look at the protein gland where the silk fibers are produced using state-of-the-art techniques. This showed a more complex hierarchical protein assembly.

It was concluded that spider silk proteins start as complex compound micelles, unlike the previous theory that stipulated it started out as simple spherical micelles. The black widow spider silks are spun from hierarchical Nano-assembles of proteins which are stored in the abdomen hence the unique mechanical strength and elasticity. In milliseconds, these arachnids are able to produce silk fibers.

It will be a transformative step if nanomaterial experts will successfully replicate this natural process to produce synthetic fibers. The potential impacts and applications for such a material will indeed be limitless.

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