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HomeSciencePhysicsScientists Unravel Silk Habitat Morphology

Scientists Unravel Silk Habitat Morphology

• Physics 15, s90

Using scanning electron microscopes, researchers have noticed how water transforms particular person silk threads into protecting sheets to create waterproof habitats for web-spinning bugs.

A. C. Andrews et al. [1].

Spiders and silkworms could also be nature’s best-known silk spinners, however the prize for the best handiwork goes to a lesser-known order referred to as Embioptera. These bugs, also referred to as webspinners, kind their fantastic silk threads (30–140 nm in diameter) into webs, which rework into cloth-like sheets or movies when moist. Because webspinner threads are thinner than optical wavelengths, the mechanism driving this transformation has been elusive. Now, utilizing optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy, Richard Barber of Santa Clara University, California, and colleagues present that water-soluble proteins within the silk are answerable for this mechanism [1]. The mechanism might sooner or later be repurposed for biomedical purposes like drug supply.

In the wild, webspinners use their silk sheets to construct properties in gaps in tree bark. To replicate these constructions within the lab, Barber and his colleagues inspired webspinners from two totally different species to construct throughout grooves in a graphite substrate. After amassing the silk samples, the researchers noticed how the fabric reacted to microliter drops of water. They discovered that, as a substitute of soaking by way of and dissolving the silk threads completely, the water dissolved solely the water-soluble protein cores, leaving the lipid-based outer sheaths of the threads intact. These dissolved core proteins shaped a layer on the floor of the water droplets. Then when the water had evaporated, the residue remained as a skinny movie on the silk construction. The objective of those movies is unknown, however biologists consider that they may defend the bugs from rainfall in tropical climates.

Next, the researchers plan to check different species of webspinners to find out how frequent this waterproofing mechanism is. They additionally hope to make use of spectroscopy to check the molecular construction of the silk’s proteins.

–Sarah Wells

Sarah Wells is an unbiased science journalist based mostly in Boston.


  1. A. C. Andrews et al., “Morphological transformation from fibers to sheets in embiopteran silk,” Phys. Rev. E 106, 014801 (2022).

Subject Areas

Biological PhysicsMaterials Science

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