Producing Spider Silk Fibers

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Faculty Mentor

Randy Lewis


Spider-silk, which is constructed solely of proteins, is the strongest biomaterial fiber. Unfortunately, spiders are cannibalistic and territorial, making them impossible to farm. The alternative is to create a synthetic spider-silk fiber. The spider-silk lab at Utah State University has produced synthetic spider-silk in E. coli, silkworms, goats, and alfalfa plants. The current technique for synthetic fiber formation has yet to be optimized to equal the strength and elasticity of the native silk fibers. Prior research has shown that different parameters in the spin dope, spinning, and post-spin draw of spider-silk fibers can greatly affect its mechanical properties. Thus, the primary goal of this research is to discover how parameters such as solvents, temperature, speed, additives, and post-spin draw, among other variables, affect the properties of synthetic spider-silk proteins extracted from goatÕs milk. Additionally, this research plans to design, build and test a mechanical system that can perform these treatments while the fiber is being made, thereby creating a system that can be used commercially. Results from several of these experiments, along with proposed experiments for future work, will be presented. It is anticipated that, in addition to discovering how these parameters affect the fibers, synthetic silk will be produced that has the elasticity and tensile strength characteristic of native silk.

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