Artificial spider silk provides sustainable alternative to single-use plastics
As part of their protein research, Knowles and his group became interested in why materials like spider silk are so strong when they have such weak molecular bonds. Proteins have a propensity for molecular self-organization and self-assembly, and plant proteins in particular are abundant and can be sourced sustainably as by-products of the food industry. The researchers successfully replicated the structures found on spider silk by using soy protein isolate, a protein with a completely different composition. "Because all proteins are made of polypeptide chains, under the right conditions we can cause plant proteins to self-assemble just like spider silk," said Knowles. "In a spider, the silk protein is dissolved in an aqueous solution, which then assembles into an immensely strong fiber through a spinning process which requires very little energy." The researchers used soy protein isolate as their test plant protein, since it is readily available as a by-product of soybean oil production. Citation: 'Vegan spider silk' provides sustainable alternative to single-use plastics retrieved 10 June 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-06-vegan-spider-silk-sustainable-alternative.