Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Secrets of Silk
04 October 2014

Secrets of Silk

As strong as steel with the ability to stop bullets, spider silk is incredible. Its combination of strength, flexibility and its benign effect on the human body makes it ideal for medicinal applications. Replacing damaged tendons, sewing up wounds and building scaffolds for new cells to grow upon are just a few potential uses. Difficulties associated with extracting spider silk, however, mean that if these dreams are to be realised at scale creating artificial mimics is essential. And for this, scientists need to decipher the mysterious process that underpins silk production. New evidence suggests that turning the basic material of long proteins into solid fibres may revolve around changes in acidity. In this silk-producing gland, the acidic concentration (higher acidity indicated by more intense yellow) peaks midway through the twisted duct before dropping off towards the tapered exit. A small but important step towards understanding this wonder material.

Written by Jan Piotrowski

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