Design of superior spider silk: from nanostructure to mechanical properties

Biophys J. 2006 Dec 15;91(12):4528-35. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.106.089144. Epub 2006 Sep 1.


Spider dragline silk is of practical interest because of its excellent mechanical properties. However, the structure of this material is still largely unknown. In this article, we report what we believe is a new model of the hierarchical structure of silk based on scanning electron microscope and atomic force microscope images. This hierarchical structure includes beta-sheet, polypeptide chain network, and silk fibril. It turns out that an exceptionally high strength of the spider dragline silk can be obtained by decreasing the size of the crystalline nodes in the polypeptide chain network while increasing the degree of orientation of the crystalline nodes. Based on this understanding, how the reeling speed affects mechanical properties of spider dragline silk can be understood properly. Hopefully, the understanding obtained in this study will shed light on the formation of spider silk, and consequently, on the principles for the design of ultrastrong silk.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Female
  • Fibroins / chemistry*
  • Fibroins / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nanostructures
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Silk / chemistry*
  • Silk / ultrastructure
  • Spiders / chemistry*
  • Stress, Mechanical


  • Peptides
  • Silk
  • Fibroins