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Silk's outstanding mechanical properties and energy efficient solidification mechanisms provide inspiration for biomaterial self-assembly as well as offering a diverse platform of materials suitable for many biotechnology applications. Experiments now reveal that the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori secretes its silk in a practically "unspun" state that retains much of the solvent water and exhibits a surprisingly low degree of molecular order (β-sheet crystallinity) compared to the state found in a fully formed and matured fiber. These new observations challenge the general understanding of silk spinning and in particular the role of the spinning duct for structure development. Building on this discovery we report that silk spun in low humidity appears to arrest a molecular annealing process crucial for β-sheet formation. This, in turn, has significant positive implications, enabling the production of a high fidelity reconstituted silk fibroin with properties akin to the gold standard of unspun native silk.

Original publication

DOI

10.1021/acs.biomac.6b00887

Type

Journal article

Journal

Biomacromolecules

Publication Date

10/10/2016

Volume

17

Pages

3198 - 3204