search button
newscenter logo
Saturday, October 23, 2021

Follow SDSU Follow SDSU on Twitter Follow SDSU on Facebook SDSU RSS Feed

SDSU associate professor of analytical chemistry Gregory Holland holds a Black Widow spider (Video: Scott Hargrove/SDSU)
 


Research Horizons: Unraveling the Mysteries of Spider Silk

Chemist Gregory Holland and his SDSU lab are working to create an artificial version of spider silk.
By Kellie Woodhouse and Scott Hargrove
 

A spider spinning a web looks simple on the surface.

Yet spider silk is the result of a complicated, delicate and relatively mysterious process where silk proteins are synthesized and processed inside the spider’s abdomen, resulting in a material tougher than bulletproof vests and stronger than the steel used in airplanes. 

Scientists have learned how to mimic spider silk, but they have yet to make an artificial version as strong as Mother Nature’s original. San Diego State University chemist Gregory Holland is one of a growing number of scientists seeking to learn as much as possible about this natural phenomenon and develop a material just as hardy as true spider silk. 

Holland uses advanced imaging—nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy technology—to peer inside Black Widows and other spiders as they spin their webs. 

His work could have far-reaching implications. 

“We are getting a picture of how the magic happens as these proteins organize into the wonderful materials we see in the world around us,” Holland said. “This research extends far beyond mimicking a material like spider silk. It could make possible the biosynthesis of bone and hard tissue like teeth in the lab.”

Holland, an associate professor, arrived at SDSU in 2015 after nine years as a research professor at Arizona State University. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Wyoming, where he first became interested in spider silk. Since then Holland has authored more than 40 papers on the subject.

The U.S. Department of Defense funds his research through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

 
Unraveling the Mysteries of Spider Silk
Chemist Gregory Holland and his SDSU lab are working to create an artificial version of spider silk.