Journal of Experimental Biology vol:209 issue:21 pages:4355-4362
We investigate the rheological properties of microliter quantities of the spinning material extracted ex vivo from the major ampullate gland of a Nephila clavipes spider using two new micro-rheometric devices. A sliding plate micro-rheometer is employed to measure the steady-state shear viscosity of similar to 1 mu l samples of silk dope from individual biological specimens. The steady shear viscosity of the spinning solution is found to be highly shear-thinning, with a power-law index consistent with values expected for liquid crystalline solutions. Calculations show that the viscosity of the fluid decreases 10-fold as it flows through the narrow spinning canals of the spider. By contrast, measurements in a microcapillary extensional rheometer show that the transient extensional viscosity (i.e. the viscoelastic resistance to stretching) of the spinning fluid increases more than 100-fold during the spinning process. Quantifying the properties of native spinning solutions provides new guidance for adjusting the spinning processes of synthetic or genetically engineered silks to match those of the spider.