CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Pound for pound, spider silk is one of the strongest materials known: Research by MIT's Markus Buehler has helped explain that this strength arises from silk's unusual hierarchical arrangement of protein building blocks.
Now Buehler together with David Kaplan of Tufts University and Joyce Wong of Boston University has synthesized new variants on silk's natural structure, and found a method for making further improvements in the synthetic material.
And an ear for music, it turns out, might be a key to making those structural improvements.
The work stems from a collaboration of civil and environmental engineers, mathematicians, biomedical engineers and musical composers. The results are reported in a paper published in the journal Nano Today.
"We're trying to approach making materials in a different way," Buehler explains, "starting from the building blocks" in this case, the protein molecules that form the structure of silk. "It's very hard to do this; proteins are very complex."
Other groups have tried to construct such protein-based fibers using a trial-and-error approach, Buehler says. But this team has approached the problem systematically, starting with computer modeling of the underlying structures that give the natural silk its unusual combination of strength, flexibility and stretchiness.
Buehler's previous research has determined that fibers with a particular structure highly ordered, layered protein structures alternating with densely packed, tangled clumps of proteins (ABABAB) help to give silk its exceptional properties. For this initial attempt at synthesizing a new material, the team chose to look instead at patterns in which one of the structures occurred in triplets (AAAB and BBBA).
Making such structures is no simple task. Kaplan, a chemical and biomedical engineer, modified silk-producing genes to produce these new sequences of proteins. Then Wong, a bio
|Contact: Sarah McDonnell|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology