Science 3 min read

New Study: Spider Silk Could Be Used As Robotic Muscle

In a revelatory new discovery, MIT researchers have discovered that spider silk has the ability to be used to develop artificial muscles for future robots.

if scalable, this could be a major breakthrough in the development of artificial muscle fibers. ¦ Pexels

if scalable, this could be a major breakthrough in the development of artificial muscle fibers. ¦ Pexels

Spider silk is known as one of the strongest known materials in relation to its weight. Now, researchers have discovered an unusual property of the material — it can create robot muscles.

As reported in the Journal of Science Advances, the resilient fiber responds strongly to changes in humidity. When the atmospheric moisture increases above a specific level, they suddenly contract and twist.

Now here is the exciting part; the force exerted during this process is enough to compete with other materials in the sector. In other words, you can use the fiber to move and control a mechanism or system.

A team of researchers, including MIT Professor Markus Buehler, Anna Tarakanova and undergraduate student Claire Hsu at MIT, published their findings on the spider silk’s unique property, which they call super contraction.

Here is how it works.

How Supercontraction in Spider Silk Works

As said earlier, the spider silk suddenly shrinks in response to changes in humidity. Aside from contracting, the threads also twist to provide a strong torsional force at the same time. One of the researchers described it as a new phenomenon discovered by accident.

Initially, the researchers wanted to study the influence of humidity on dragline silk. So, they suspended a weight from the silk to create a kind of pendulum and enclosed the setup in a chamber to control the relative humidity. That was when they noticed the unusual property of the spider silk.

“When we increased the humidity, the pendulum started to rotate. It was out of our expectation. It really shocked me,” said one of the researchers.

Then the researcher got curious and tested several other materials, including human hair. But, none possessed the twisting motions found in the spider fabric. At that moment, they realized the implication of the phenomenon and how it might be used for artificial muscles.

As it turns out, the twisting motion is based on the folding of Proline – a specific kind of protein building block.

To understand the underlying mechanism, Tarakanova and Hsu had to perform detailed molecular modeling. “And we actually found a potential mechanism based on the Proline,” Hsu said.

The dragline silk contains two proteins, the MaSP1 and MsSP2. When exposed to a 70 percent humidity threshold, these proteins asymmetrically disrupt into hydrogen bonds. As a result, it causes a one-directional rotation.

Aside from creating artificial muscles, the findings could help build a precise sensor for humidity.

Read More: How Gene-Edited Bees Could Save the Species

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

Comments (4)
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    Derrick Vanwyk March 25 at 2:09 am GMT

    I had a great time reading it!

  2. Profile Image
    Shannon Harrington March 25 at 7:05 am GMT

    Great! On the contrary, do we need a giant spider to mass produce spider silk reach in proline?

    • Profile Image
      Derrick Vanwyk March 26 at 9:56 am GMT

      This fiber will be in demand for the robotics industry and the culture of spider silk will become a phenomenon. When the demand is great and cannot be sustained therefore a Gigantic spider is not a bad idea at all. 🤔

      • Profile Image
        Shannon Harrington April 03 at 10:05 am GMT

        I understand what you’re saying, but if I agreed with you, then we’d both be wrong.

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