Material made from spider silk and wood ‘could be a replacement for plastic’

Rob Waugh
A material derived from spider silk could replace plastic (Getty)

Researchers have created a strong, flexible material which could be used as a replacement for plastic - made from wood cellulose fibres and the protein found in spider silk.

Unlike plastic, it would biodegrade naturally, the Finnish researchers say.

The researchers believe it could be used as a replacement for plastic, including for textiles, surgical fibres and packaging.

Professor Markus Linder of Aalto University says that materials derived from nature have the advantage that they are biodegradable - and don’t damage nature like microplastics.

Professor Linder said: “Our researchers just need to be able to reproduce these natural properties.”

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Research scientist Pezhman Mohammadi from VTT said: “We used birch tree pulp, broke it down to cellulose nanofibrils and aligned them into a stiff scaffold.

“At the same time, we infiltrated the cellulosic network with a soft and energy dissipating spider silk adhesive matrix.

“In future, we could manufacture similar composites with slightly different building blocks and achieve a different set of characteristics for other applications.

“Currently we are working on making new composite materials as implants, impact resistance objects and other products.”

Silk is a natural protein which is excreted by animals like silkworms and also found in spider web threads. The spider web silk used by Aalto University researchers, however, is not actually taken from spider webs but is instead produced by the researchers using bacteria with synthetic DNA.