Spider silk fibre extrusion: combined wide- and small-angle X-ray microdiffraction experiments.
Riekel C., Vollrath F.
The major and minor ampullate silks from live Nephila senegalensis (Tetragnathidae) and the major ampullate silk from Euprostenops spp. (Pisauridae) spiders were investigated in situ by X-ray diffraction during forced silking. Wide- (WAXS) and small-angle (SAXS) scattering patterns were obtained at the same time. WAXS data show that the thread at the exit of the spigots already contains beta-sheet poly(alanine) crystallites. SAXS data suggest the presence of microfibrils with an axial repeating period of approximately 8 nm for both Nephila and Euprostenops. Minor ampullate (MI) Nephila silk, however, does not show this axial repeat which is probably due to a higher amount of crystal forming poly(alanine). A microfibrillar morphology, connected by a network of random polymer chains, can explain the presence of highly oriented crystallites, an oriented halo and a diffuse background in the WAXS patterns. At high reeling speeds, bound water is co-extruded with the fibre. It can be squeezed out of the fibre by friction at a needle. Under natural conditions it is the spider's tarsal claws which might serve to squeeze out the water to improve the mechanical properties of the thread during dragline production.