Letter abstract


Nature Materials 5, 870 - 874 (2006)
Published online: 22 October 2006 | doi:10.1038/nmat1762

Subject Categories: Biological materials | Characterisation and analytical techniques | Mechanical properties

Comparing the rheology of native spider and silkworm spinning dope

C. Holland1, A. E. Terry1,2, D. Porter1 & F. Vollrath1

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Silk production has evolved to be energetically efficient and functionally optimized1, yielding a material that can outperform most industrial fibres2, 3, particularly in toughness. Spider silk has hitherto defied all attempts at reproduction4, 5, 6, despite advances in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind its superb mechanical properties7, 8, 9. Spun fibres, natural and man-made, rely on the extrusion process to facilitate molecular orientation and bonding2, 10, 11, 12. Hence a full understanding of the flow characteristics of native spinning feedstock (dope) will be essential to translate natural spinning to artificial silk production. Here we show remarkable similarity between the rheologies for native spider-dragline and silkworm-cocoon silk, despite their independent evolution and substantial differences in protein structure. Surprisingly, both dopes behave like typical polymer melts. This observation opens the door to using polymer theory13, 14 to clarify our general understanding of natural silks, despite the many specializations found in different animal species1, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18.

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  1. Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK
  2. ISIS Facility, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Chilton, Didcot, OX11 0QX, UK

Correspondence to: F. Vollrath1 e-mail: fritz.vollrath@zoo.ox.ac.uk

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