Scientists have taken spider silk, which is already tougher than steel, and made it even stronger by infusing it with small amounts of metal. Potential applications of the new material include medical textiles and artificial bones and tendons. “It could make very strong thread for surgical operations,” researcher Seung-Mo Lee of the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics in Halle, Germany, said in a telephone interview with Reuters.
Spider silk, in its native state, outperforms nearly all synthetic textiles. The material combines high tensile strength with extensibility, making it resistant to breaking. By adding zinc, titanium or aluminum to a length of spider silk, the material can be made even more resistant to breaking, according to research published in Science.
Material scientists at Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics used atomic layer deposition to fuse metal with spider silk. The technique caused some metal ions to penetrate the silk fibres, altering their protein structure. The technique is expected to work with other biomaterials as well. The scientists will try using the technique to strengthen other materials such as artificial polymers such as Teflon.
The idea to improve spider silk with metal was inspired by studies showing traces of metals in the strongest parts of some insect body parts. Leaf-cutter ants’s jaws, for instance, contain high zinc levels, making them especially strong.Brian Buntz