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Tufts University bioengineers discover secret of spider, silkworm fiber strength

ng in the glands. This semi-stable state, with sufficiently entrapped water and liquid crystalline structures, prevents the proteins from crystallizing too early, until the spinning process.

The structures formed in the process can be easily converted artificially into fibers with physical shear (moving the silk gel between two plates of glass) or during fiber spinning in the native process. The control of water content and structure development are essential because premature crystallization of the protein could cause a permanent blockage of the spinning system, leading to catastrophic consequences for the spider or silkworm.

This process, when combined with the novel polymer design features in silk proteins, retains sufficient water to keep the protein soluble, while allowing the protein to self-organize and reach spinnable concentrations. Achieving sufficient concentration of protein is key to the proper spinning of fibers and to the spider's and silkworm's survival.

Kaplan says this new insight into silk processing could result in:

  • New high-strength and high-performance materials such as sports equipment, hiking gear and protective clothing for law enforcement;

  • New biomaterial applications for cell growth in tissue engineering, as well as general biomaterial needs for tissue and organ repair;

  • Environmentally sound processes to generate fibers and films from these types of polymers, since the entire process occurs in water.

"Kaplan's research is distinctive because it addresses a fundamental problem common to all prior research in this field," said Jamshed Bharucha, Tufts provost and senior vice president.

In 2002, Kaplan and his team of researchers from Tufts' schools of engineering and medicine developed a tissue engineering strategy to repair one of the world's most common knee injuries -- ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) -- by mechanically and biologically engi
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Contact: Craig LeMoult
craig.lemoult@tufts.edu
617-627-4317
Tufts University
27-Aug-2003


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