A researcher in Tufts University, David Kaplan, has expended a huge chunk of his research career examining and analyzing the exceptional qualities of the fibers emanating from spiders and silkworms. Along with his fellow scientist Fiorenzo Omenetto he has recapitulated about silk in a review in a scientific magazine.
Researchers have been trying to emulate nature, striving to design fibers that match or surpass silk’s singular qualities. A bulletproof vest will tear or fragment when it is bent, but when silk is tugged or yanked it does not disintegrate, only stretches a little, similar to Nylon, but silk’s strength is far superior when compared to Nylon.
Silk films can act as biosensors. This one from a Tufts lab contains hemoglobin from human blood that changes color in certain solutions.
According to Kaplan, Tufft’s Biomedical Engineering Chairman, Nature’s exclusive materials were of great curiosity in their laboratories, the major task being trying to analyze how nature in the form of biology, has resolved its complex difficulties. He says that silk is an extremely tough substance and can be used in a variety of applications.
For eons, silk sutures have been utilized to sew injuries. However the latest silk which is either a reprocessed version of silkworm silk, or silk made from microbes, which are genetically restructured is very strong and unique. It can be utilized in the form of a scaffold in the human body, from which new tissues or bones can grow, and after a period of time the scaffold automatically dissolves. This property of silk i.e. biodegradability can be regulated ranging between a day to a year. Its future possibilities include usage in mending miniscule blood vessels or torn knee ligaments.
In a joint venture with other labs, Kaplan’s research members have victoriously accomplished incorporating a scaffold made of silk into stem cells which gives rise to bone on one side and cartilage on the other side. One of Kaplan’s former students has created Serica Technologies, now inducted into Allergan Inc., where a silk scaffold has been used to rectify hernia injuries or rotator cuffs by surgery. Silk can also be used in telecommunications, by using silk strands as fiber optics to carry light, or in the field of medicine as a part of a sensor to disclose the conditions inside a human body. Silk films carrying blood, will change color when oxygen is present or absent in blood. Electrodes printed on silk membranes have been positioned on the brains of animals in Kaplan’s lab proving to be a good recorder for the functions of the brain before disintegrating.
Kaplan concluded that inspite of the overwhelming advancements in science, Nature still cannot be bested.