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manufacturing synthetic silk

Researchers have always wished to harvest vast quantities of spider's silk to make meta materials: strong cables or bulletproof vests. Spiders it turns out are not too cooperative. To obtain commercial quantities is an impossibility, so researchers are trying to unlock the secrets of a more readily available substance from the silkworm. By reconstituting silkworm cocoons, researcher David Kaplan and others at Tufts University, are getting closer to making synthetic to use as sutures, prevent scarring, treat epilepsy, the possibilities are endless.

Dr. Kaplan’s group and colleagues at the University of Illinois and University of Pennsylvania have recently produced electrode arrays that are printed on flexible, degradable films of silk that could be used for tissue engineering, for optics and other biomedical applications.

For centuries, beginning in China, commercial silk has been produced by cultivating silkworms — the larvae of a moth, Bombyx mori — which, unlike spiders, are content to slowly munch on mulberry leaves, spinning the material in quantities large enough to be harvested.

Silk is a fibrous protein, produced in glands within the spider or silkworm and some other insects.

At Tufts, Dr. Kaplan thinks that eventually, genetically modified plants will produce useful spider-or silkworm based silk that could be harvested like cotton.

“Silk is a wonderful material because it’s biocompatible,” said Dr. Kharlampieva, who is continuing her research at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Other ideas at Tufts, include using silk as the basis for metamaterials, which can manipulate light or other electromagnetic radiation in ways that nature ordinarily cannot. These could be used inside the body as a means of monitoring health.

Source: NY Times



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