Chinese scientists give silkworms supernatural strength

Chinese scientists have been experimenting with strengthening the silk of silkworms.

Lila Alexander | Oct 01, 2016

Chinese scientists have been experimenting with strengthening the silk of silkworms.

Silk is highly prized for its light weight, flexibility, strength and versatility. Chinese scientists have found a way to createsilk that is much tougher, far more durable, and considerably more conductive than unaffected silk threads.

The new properties of the "super silk" were brought about by Chinese scientists feeding silkworms with carbon nanotubes and graphene, which affected the type of silk they spun. There is great hope for the various potential applications of the new silk that range from new fabrics to medical implants.

The explanation of the process is that scientists engaged silk moth caterpillars, which naturally produce the silk while they eat the leaves of mulberry trees. When they are ready for metamorphosis into adult moths, the caterpillar larvae create silk cocoons for themselves. The fibre thereof is produced by proteins in their salivary glands.

This is not the first time that scientists have attempted to alter the silk fibres that are produced by moth larvae. It is a widespread practice of textile manufacturers to tweak the properties of naturally occurring silk fibres by adding antimicrobial compounds and variously colored dyes to them.

The team of scientists at Tsinghua University in China, however, came up with the idea to feed the larvae a diet heavy with nanomaterials such asgraphene and carbon nanotubes. This process allows the larvae to naturally spin the reinforced threads themselves. Only parts of nanomaterials had to be incorporated into the fibres thereafter.

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