Tougher than steel and Kevlar, the silk of the black widow spider has long been coveted by manufacturing companies, defense contractors and comic-book reading nerds as a possible material of the future.
Scientists have spent years decoding pieces of the spiders’ silk making genes, but now Nadia Ayoub and a group of researchers at the University of California-Riverside can create the full proteins and probably spider silk as well.
The silk making genes turn out to be quite long (over 10,000 base-pairs), but with very few introns or “junk DNA” sections that are usually found on genes of this length. The strength of the silk may come from the shape of the proteins, which contain stacked amino acids. The elasticity most likely arises from kinks in the protein, formed by glycine and proline amino acids.
As quoted on NPR’s Science Friday (where we discovered this article), Ayoub explains how one might go about manufacturing black widow silk: ,AeuWe can take the silk gene and put it in another organism,,Aeu Ayoub said, such as a tomato plant, ,Aeuthen we can use some kind of artificial spinning apparatus that mimics the spider to spin a fiber from that extracted protein.,Aeu
Possible uses for the spider silk already being discussed are sutures, rope, artificial tendons and even ultra-light body armor.