My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: MIT's Production of Synthetic Spider Silk and How to make Mithrail, Sutures and Wedding Dresses

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Friday, July 3, 2015

MIT's Production of Synthetic Spider Silk and How to make Mithrail, Sutures and Wedding Dresses

“Our goal is to improve the strength, elasticity, and toughness of artificially spun fibres by borrowing bright ideas from nature”

MIT Post-doctoral student Shangchao Lin commenting on MIT's successful production of Synthetic Spider Silk using transgenic bacteria and Computational Modeling Software

Researchers have finally done what what’s originally thought only a Spider can do.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by successfully used transgenic bacteria to make synthetic Spider Silk as reported the article “Spider Silk made without the spiders”, published May 28, 2015 by Michelle Starr, CNET News.  



Their work, published in the Nature Communications Journal marks the successful synthesis of Spider Silk in a laboratory setting. Other scientists such as Professor Randy Lewis of  Utah State University since August 2012 has been using transgenic goats to produce milk laden with spider proteins in the hopes of making Spider Silk.

Another researcher Dr. My Hedhammar of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences working with a Japanese startup Spiber has reported on May 2013 of their success in producing clothing based on synthetic Spider Silk from Transgenic Escherichia Coli Bacteria as reported in my blog article entitled “USTAR produces Spider Silk From Transgenic Silkworms and Japanese Spiber from Transgenic Escherichia Coli Bacteria - Spider Silk's big trend in Fabrics which means I’m Out Ciara and Nikki Minaj Style”.

More recently in May 2015, a team led by Dr. Emiliano Lepore at the University of Trento in Trento, Italy coaxed some Pholcidae Spiders to produce Spider Silk infused with CNT (Carbon Nanotubes) as reported in my blog article entitled “University of Trento feeds Pholcidae spiders with Carbon nanotubes and graphene – Spider Silk Stronger than Kevlar suggests different mechanism for Synthetic Silk Production”.

The interest is understandable; Spider Silk is super-strong yet lightweight. At 6/10 the density of high-grade steel, it’s far stronger and less like to fracture unlike Kevlar, making it the perfect material to make Bullet-proof vests. Less obvious applications are in making sutures for cuts, after-surgery stitching of patients and even a drug delivery mechanism, as the body readily absorbs spider proteins without any ill effects.

So how has MIT's team improved upon what seems to be a field of interest for many scientists? Apparently with the help of simulation software.

MIT’s Transgenic bacteria to produce Synthetic Spider Silk – Computational Modellin in Time saves Nine

The MIT Team, like Dr. My Hedhammar of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, also used transgenic bacteria to produce their Spider Silk proteins. However, their approach was to do simulation using Computational modelling tools to simulate the Spider Silk proteins and how best to combine them to make Spider Silk.

By using simulation software, they not only determined the best combinational ratio of Spider Silk proteins but how to combine them to spin them into Spider Silk of varying grades. This is important as the process of extracting the hydrophobic and hydrophillic Spider Silk proteins can be scaled up to an industrial manufacturing scale.

Doing it the old-fashioned way using trial-and-error would have taken months as there are hundreds of proteins that make up Spider Silk. The Computational modelling software made the work easier, allowing the team to try out a huge range of molecules and determine what ratio of Spider Silk proteins as well as what combinations best produce the type and grade of Spider Silk that they required.

For example, Spider Silk that can be used for suture has to be much softer, at least 60% water-soluble and less brittle and able to bio-degrade while close to the patient's skin. Spider Silk needed to make fabric for clothing or bullet-proof vests needs to a lot sturdier, wash proof, waterproof and able to withstand bullets in the case of bullet proof vests.


Simulation was then followed up by lab testing, with the Spider Silk proteins being combined in the ratios and combinations as recommended by the Computational modelling software. The resulting Spider Silk fibers thus far are not as strong as original Spider Silk. But the fact that they now know how to vary the type and grade of Spider Silk using computational modeling software means that they can also use these real-world measurements.

Thus Spider Silk with CNT or even Diamond Nanothreads based on the research of Chemistry professor John Badding at Penn State University as reported in my blog article entitled “Penn State University’s Carbon Nanothreads – How to make Carbon Nanothreads using Oak Ridge National Laboratory Pressure Cooker” are quite possible.

Mithrail, Sutures and Wedding Dresses may be the next big trend when Spider Silk starts being mass-produced!


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