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Artificial spider silk is not only super strong, it's sustainable too

artificial spider silk medical man
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Ever dreamed of being a real-life Spider-Man? Researchers at Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology are keen to help — courtesy of their invention of the strongest artificial silk fibers yet created. Made using a combination of spider silk proteins and nanocellulose from wood, the new process is also impressively low-cost and scalable in a way not seen before.

“We have developed a high-performance hybrid material where we are able to combine the stiffness of cellulose with the toughness and functionality of recombinant silk,” researcher Daniel Söderberg told Digital Trends. “Furthermore, we show that by fabricating filaments using a microfluidic process we are able to get never-seen-before properties.”

A description of the work is published in the journal ACS Nano, in a paper titled “Ultrastrong and Bioactive Nanostructured Bio-Based Composites.”

The partially wood-based artificial spider web won’t just be used for ridding New York of evildoers, however. (In fact, for some reason the researchers haven’t singled this out as a possible use, at all.) Instead, they are interested in the possible medicinal properties of spider webs — which reportedly date back as far as ancient Rome, when webs were used to dress soldiers’ battle wounds.

“The unique combination of strength, flexibility, and bioactivity in a biocompatible material is very attractive for both implants and tissue engineering applications where load-bearing constructs are needed, such as hip prosthesis, bone, ligaments, and tendons,” co-author My Hedhammar told us.

The notion of combining the artificial webbing’s biodegradable, virtually non-toxic properties with its mechanical strength opens up a range of exciting possibilities — such as using it as a possible filament material building block for artificial ligaments.

“There are several interesting routes forward,” Hedhammer said. “For example, we want to look into how this method can be used for large-scale production. We are also eager to create more advanced 3D structures.”

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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