Hierarchical structure of spider silk reproduced for the first time

November 5, 2020

Formation of hierarchical structure with liquid-liquid phase separation of silk protein

A joint research group led by members of RIKEN CSRS and Keio University has become the first group to successfully reproduce the hierarchical structure of spider dragline silk.

For its light weight and strong properties, spider dragline silk is expected to have applications in a wide range of fields, including high-strength structural materials. However, its spinning mechanism had not yet been understood. In this study, the research group identified the molecular mechanism of silk protein that makes up spider dragline silk. They showed that the silk protein goes through a behavior named “liquid-liquid phase separation” to form a network-shaped microscopic fiber (microfibril).

In addition, by adding shear forces to the microfibril, the group succeeded in reproducing the hierarchical structure similar to dragline silk in which the microfibril is bundled together.

The results of this study are expected to be a clue to the development of technologies to artificially synthesize thread showing the same structure and properties as natural spider silk.

Original article
Science Advances doi:10.1126/sciadv.abb6030
A. D. Malay, T. Suzuki, T. Katashima, N. Kono, K. Arakawa, K. Numata,
"Spider silk self-assembly via modular liquid-liquid phase separation and nanofibrillation".
Keiji Numata
Team Leader
Biomacromolecules Research Team