Scientists are spinning up artificial silk for a plastic-free future



We’ve all seen it before in comics, films and on TV – the arachnoid superhero who shoots webs to fight crime. Spiderman had been an iconic figure since he was first introduced by Stan Lee in the 1960s, but we know very little of the technologies used by our villain-catching superhero. As soon as he shoots out a web, he is able to seize criminals by the hand or stick them up to the ceiling. Was his web truly that strong? How much do we know about the silk’s properties?

Silk is made out of natural protein biopolymer, which is only produced by spiders, silkworms and other arthropods. They use silk to build their cocoons and swaddling clothes for their offspring or to catch and to preserve their prey. We are able to take advantage of this natural fibre by removing the sericin or the outer protein coating of the silk, leaving the fibroin fibres that we use to weave into all sorts of clothes. With its exceptional strength, toughness and thermal stability due to its chemical nature, the silk used by Spiderman may have been good enough to toss one of his gross enemies out of the building. 

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