MM: Synthetic Spider Silk; Tying The World’s Tightest Knot

In this Manufacturing Minute episode, making synthetic spider silk and the world’s tightest knot.

Synthetic Spider Silk

On a per-weight basis, natural spider silk is stronger than steel and has been used in everything from biodegradable sutures to violin strings. It even has possible applications in electronics.

While impressive, harvesting spider silk is challenging since individual spiders only produce a small amount of silk and they tend to get aggressive when housed together.

The solution? Synthetic spider silk. Until now, scientists weren’t able to replicate the strength of the natural fiber. However, a new process, developed by Swedish researchers, uses bacteria and spider silk proteins to mimic the natural spinning production of spiders.

Researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences designed a spider silk protein using different spider species and are able to make unprecedented amounts of the protein in E. coli bacteria.

A specially designed spinning apparatus mimics the changes in pH that spiders use to make silk fibers. Researchers say this is the first time artificial spider silk fibers can be spun without the use of harsh chemicals.

The process allows the creation of large quantities of artificial web threads on demand.

Researchers say the artificial silk could be used in various applications such as high performance textiles and medical applications.

Currently the spinning process is slow and would need to be faster if production of the artificial spider silk is going to be commercially viable.


In what ways do you see artificial spider silk being utilized? Do you think production could be scaled up for use in manufacturing? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Tying The World's Tightest Knot

When most people think of knots, they probably picture sailing competitions or Boy Scout demonstrations.But when chemists at the University of Manchester think about them, they visualize nano-level structures that could lead to the next generation of advanced materials.

Manchester scientists recently detailed a new method of weaving strands of molecules around metal ions, then fusing the ends together with a chemical catalyst.

The process allows for tighter and more complex knots than previously possible.

One knot, in particular, featured eight crossings in a closed loop of 192 atoms — at about 20 millionths of a meter, the tightest knot in history.

Molecular knots could enable scientists to precisely braid polymer strands to create strong yet lightweight and flexible materials for use in construction materials or fabrication.


Which industries could benefit the most from stronger, stretchy polymers? Tell us what you think by leaving your comments below.

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