Super spider silk

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by Gitzel Puente
September 16, 2010
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Super spider silk

Stronger than steel, more elastic than a rubber band--spider silk has amazing properties. ASU researchers are studying spider silk proteins in the hopes of producing it synthetically.

Full transcript

[background music]

Jeff Yarger, professor, director, Magnetic Research Center, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry:  Right now, we have about 5 to 10 different species. Because we live in the desert, because Arizona State is in a very arid desert climate, we study a lot of the arid type spiders. Our group is really trying to understand, at a molecular level, the proteins that make up spider silk in their structure.

One spider produces six different types of silk that vary hugely in their properties, from something like a dragline silk where you can knock it off a limb and it catches itself, this has a tensile strength per weight higher than steel, to ones with a flagella‑type silk, which is what it uses to make a spiral of its web. That's more elastic than a rubber band.

Aaron Dahl, undergraduate student, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry:  You have to catch the spider in their little cage. We use that Tupperware cup to corral them into there. Once we have them in that cup, we bring them over to the CO2 tank, which is connected to the lid of that cup. Once we have them in there, we give them some CO2 gas.

Once they're knocked out, we can put them on to this Petri dish, lay them on their back, and then we have time to tape down their legs before they eventually wake up. Here, we can just see their silk and grab it onto the microscope a lot easier. We just lead it on.

Xiangyan Shi, graduate student, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry:  Part of my research relating to spider silk is understanding the high order structure and dynamics of the spider silk proteins. At the beginning, I was really scared, but now the spiders are my friends.

Greg Holland, research professor, magnetic Resonance Research Center, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry:  We have very creative students. We're in a chemistry department, but as you can see, we work with a biology problem. They're creative. They learn everything from how to take care of a spider to how to do complicated physical characterization like nuclear magnetic resonance.

Yarger:  Specifically, Arizona State has one of the best environments for transdisciplinary‑based research. This research is incredibly diverse, from needing to know the entomology and biology of spiders, to understanding its chemical makeup and properties, to the physics and engineering that makes these fibers so unique.

ASU gives us a very unique platform to be able to bring in scientists with expertise in many of these different fields to help us with this research.