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Scientists mix in metal to make super-strength spider silk

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Geplaatst op 24 april 2009 - 01:33

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In a number of cases, our finest manufacturing techniques haven't touched the materials that a few billion years of evolution have produced. Carefully tuned biochemistry can take a collection of otherwise abundant and mundane substances and fashion them into materials with some amazing properties, like the surface of gecko feet or the shells of mollusks. But that doesn't mean that nature's achievements can't be tweaked. Scientists have now found that they can make spider silk even tougher by infiltrating some metal atoms into the spider's handiwork.

The authors were inspired by a different animal entirely, the marine polychaete worm, which has jaws that can crush through the shells of various ocean denizens (one of these worms was recently discovered chewing through the coral in an aquarium). Previous research has suggested that the incredible strength of these jaws comes from a typical biological material spiked with a small amount of an inorganic metal—zinc, in this case. Although the zinc seems to be put in place as the jaws are formed by the worms, the researchers wondered if it might be possible to add metals back into some existing biological materials.

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