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Published: 31 July 2021

By Andy Ross

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Can plant silk replace plastic?

Spider silk is one of the strongest materials we know. Now its properties have been replicated to make a new kind of plastic. 

This new type of polymer film has been created by mimicking the properties of spider silk using plant proteins. The protein molecules have been assembled to resemble the molecules of spider silk. Apparently it is the regular spacing and high density of hydrogen bonds that give the arachnid fibre so much strength and, using soy as the protein, a new vegan substitute has been created that moves away from animal proteins entirely. 

While this may not seem exciting, the production of such a plastic is promising. Now it will be possible to make plastics that can be easily coloured, will last long enough to do their job, and will biodegrade. The process is also non-toxic and uses acetic acid and water, along with high temperatures and something called ultrasonication to reassemble molecules. In a second step to the process the solvent is removed and this makes the plastic water-insoluble and resistant. 

For the more scientifically-minded there is an article here to read. If that level of detail is not your thing we can all celebrate and look forward to a future where the fibres we use in knitting and weaving do not have old-style plastics, such as elastane, added to make them stronger.