ElI5 what keeps us from producing synthetic spider silk?

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They say spider silk is way stronger than the same amount of steel while also being elastic. What keeps us from creating spider silk for buildings, rockets, airplanes and what not? Do we really need spiders for that?

In: Chemistry

5 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

The specific chemistry and physical arrangement of the building blocks of spider silk is *extremely* difficult to replicate industrially.

In simple terms, spider silk is made up of an arrangement of “bricks” (nano crystals of proteins in an arrangement called “beta sheets”), with elastic stuff between them (amorphous proteins linking the beta sheets). It is critically important that you have these materials in this sequence, otherwise you lose all the useful properties and it’s just a pile of gooey protein.

Spider spinnerets are finely constructed for arranging these proteins in exactly the shape and order they need to be in order to produce this strength. Industrial synthesis can get us the right *compounds,* that part is easy. It’s much, much harder to get the right *structure,* which is the most important part.

If someone can figure out how to easily (=cheaply and quickly) make those strands, structure and all, without needing actual spiders, then they could make spider silk an industrial commodity. No one has quite solved this problem yet.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Spider silk isn’t just about producing the protein, but assembling it into strands from its building blocks of x length. This average length is a difficult thing to control because it’s essentially on the subcelluar/molecular level, and artificial methods have largely produced shorter lengths that have notably worse final characteristics–and price wise it just doesn’t make sense also.

Anonymous 0 Comments

it has been done for some small scale apparel [https://boltthreads.com/technology/microsilk/](https://boltthreads.com/technology/microsilk/)

Anonymous 0 Comments

Progress is being made on this front. There are silk worms that have been genetically altered to produce spider silk. It’s very early stages but the results are promising.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s the square cube rule. Scale it to twice as wide it gets 4x stronger but 8x heavier.

When you scale it up we already have materials that are stronger and lighter than spider silk would be.