Nanofibrils of Spider Silk

Nanofibrils of Spider Silk - Brown Recluse Spider Building Web
Brown Recluse Spider Building Web

Would you like to see a material that is stronger than steel and can stretch ten times more than Kevlar? If so, look at a spider web and marvel at the design of the microscopic nanofibrils of spider silk.

Researchers at William and Mary University, funded by the National Science Foundation, used atomic force microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance to examine the molecular structure of spider silk as never before. The nanofibrils of spider silk are fibers with diameters in the nanometer range, 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. Spiders generate them using proteins.

The scientists found seven layers of structural hierarchy in the spider silk. At a molecular level, they saw six distinct protein substructures making up the nanofibrils of spider silk, giving it incredible strength and resilience. They hope their research will lead to the development of high-performance synthetic fibers.

The nanofibril structures are so complex that understanding how they give spider silk its properties takes a great deal of time and special equipment. We have discussed spider web materials previously, but this new research shows that it is even more incredible than we realized. Hannes Schniepp, the director of the study, said, “Right now, we’re innovating and discovering in tiny steps, but there’s the larger goal of fully understanding the structure of spider silk. This study solves a piece of the puzzle and takes us closer to the larger dream of one day making materials like nature and, in doing so, create a more sustainable world.”

Studying God’s design in nature has led to an incredible number of things that make our lives more comfortable and enable us to solve some of the problems we face. Romans 1:20 tells us we can know there is a God through the things He has made. One of those things is the nanofibrils of spider silk.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: National Science Foundation and William & Mary University