Paralysis promises smart silk technology

Oxford University researchers have harnessed the natural defence mechanism of silkworms, which causes paralysis, in what is a major step towards the large-scale production of silks with tailor-made properties.

Silk was collected directly from paralysed silkworms by injecting a chemical that is naturally produced by the animal. In the wild silkworms produce this hormone when they are injured since, as they move their bodies through hydrostatic pressure, without this self-induced paralysis their wounds would get worse.

The team concluded that, in comparison to unparalysed silkworms, paralysis allows longer and more consistent silks to be collected by eliminating the ability of the silkworm to break and alter its silk fibre.

Unlike unravelling cocoons, as in the silk textile industry, silkworm forced reeling allows the silk properties to be modified to suit particular purposes. This has important implications for the large-scale reeling of silkworms for industrial production of environmentally-friendly fibres for use in a range of applications – from biomedical implants through to super-tough composite panels.

Read more at University of Oxford