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Comparing the rheology of native spider and silkworm spinning dope


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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Figure 1: Exemplar oscillatory sweeps.
Figure 2: Modulus increase as a result of oscillatory shear and increased temperature for silkworm dope and characterization of the end products of these experiments using oscillatory sweeps.
Figure 3: Viscosity–shear-rate profiles, shear-stress (green) and normal-force (pink) measurements and corresponding oscillatory sweeps (G ′ red, G ′′ blue) for native spider-MAA and silkworm dope.
Figure 4: Oscillatory characterization of the effect of shear flow on silkworm dope.

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For funding we thank the European Commission and the AFSOR of the United States of America as well as EPSRC. We also thank C. Dicko for comments and suggestions.

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Experiments performed by C.H. Analysis by C.H., D.P., A.T. and F.V.

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Correspondence to F. Vollrath.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Holland, C., Terry, A., Porter, D. et al. Comparing the rheology of native spider and silkworm spinning dope. Nature Mater 5, 870–874 (2006).

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