Latrodectus hesperus, is known generally as the black widow spider. Researchers at Northwestern University and San Diego State University have unraveled the complex process of how black widow spiders convert proteins into steel-strength fibers, possibly serving technologists in constructing equally strong synthetic materials.
Black widow spiders and their relatives, native to temperate climates in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and South America, produce a range of silks with excellent materials properties.
Employing corresponding, advanced techniques, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, which is used in MRI, at SDSU, followed by electron microscopy at Northwestern, the research team was able to more meticulously understand inside of the protein gland where the silk fibers originate, revealing a much more complex, ordered protein assembly.
If a similar material is produced synthetically, the practical applications for a material like this are essentially limitless, and could include high-performance textiles for military, first responders and athletes, building materials for cable bridges and other construction, environmentally friendly substitutes for plastics and biomedical applications.