Rheological characterization of nephila spidroin solution.
Chen X., Knight DP., Vollrath F.
We report the results of an investigation into the rheology of solutions of natural spider silk dope (spinning solution). We demonstrate that dilute dope solutions showed only shear thinning as the shear rate increased while more concentrated solutions showed an initial shear thinning followed by a shear thickening and a subsequent decline in viscosity. The critical shear rate for shear thickening depended on dope concentration and was very low in concentrated solutions. This helps to explain how spiders are able to spin silk at very low draw rates and why they use a very concentrated dope solution. We also show that the optimum shear rate for shear thickening in moderately concentrated solutions occurred at pH 6.3 close to the observed pH at the distal end of the spider's spinning duct. Finally, we report that the addition of K(+) ions to dilute dope solutions produced a spontaneous formation of nanofibrils that subsequently aggregated and precipitated. This change was not seen after the addition of other common cations. Taken together, these observations support the hypothesis that the secretion of H(+) and K(+) by the spider's duct together with moderate strain rates produced during spinning induce a phase separation in the silk dope in which the silk protein (spidroin) molecules are converted into insoluble nanofibrils.