How Spider Silk Could Replace Plastics

Plastic pollution poses a great threat to our environment, but apparently, spider webs may be the answer to our problems.

Despite all our technological prowess, we are still struggling to create materials that are as tensile as a spider web. This web is five times stronger than steel and this strength has been achieved through millions of years of evolution. Chemists and engineers have been looking at this amazing material for decades now in order to find a way in which they can improve the materials that we use day to day. While we may not be to the point where we can recreate the strength of the spider’s silk, we may be able to create a material inspired by spider silk that can replace plastic.

Reducing plastic production and distribution can have a very positive impact on our environment, so the news that researchers at the University of Cambridge managed to create a sustainable material from plants that could replace plastic has been received very positively.

So what makes spider silk so strong, and why is it so hard to recreate by humans? The structure of this silk is composed of molecules that are connected through relatively weak bonds, and it is this bond that allows the molecules to be dynamic and packed in dense quantities. The spider will create this silk using a protein that can naturally untangle and restructure through a process that is called protein self-assembly.

Thanks to a breakthrough however, scientists now understand how exactly these molecules interact with each other, and they hope that they can replicate the dynamic using plant-protein materials, which have a reasonable end-of-life cycle. Compared to plastics and other fossil fuel based materials, these proteins will not release any chemicals as they degrade, and there is no need for chemical modification during the production process, further reducing the impact that this material will have on the environment.

Some of the researchers behind the project are optimistic enough for this discovery that they have started a company which plans to deliver micro plastic and plastic film applications to the market. They also expect that by 2025, these materials will be widely available.

With plastics being linked to everything from lower sperm counts in men to pollution and higher cancer rates, spider silk may be the one substance that will help save us all. Does that mean we want spiders infesting our homes? Of course not. Contact us today if you have a spider infestation and would like to get rid of it.