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With the recent rise in 3D printing, I keep hearing about more novel ways to use the technology: cell 3D printing, liquid aluminum or plastic 3D printing. For example, this Ted talk deals with printing a human kidney. What interests me is if the current technology can be adapted to print with spider silk. The silk has some amazing properties, and apparently there are multiple types of silk that spiders use.

I found this project: Spiderbot 3D printer. Can spider silk actually be synthesized in large enough amounts to enable 3D printing?

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  • $\begingroup$ Just a note, the spiderbot printer you linked to is a multimaterial, but it does not print in spider silk =) $\endgroup$ – evamvid Mar 10 '14 at 4:16
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The "...in large enough amounts to enable 3D printing?" part of your question is, I think, still unknown, but spider silk has been being synthesized in transgenic goat milk for quite a long time already, and I suspect that it's now just a matter of time before the answer to your question is an unqualified "yes."

See Macromolecules, 2011, 44 (5), pp 1166–1176, doi:10.1021/ma102291m

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Synthesizing spider silk seems to be developing quickly, but for 3D printing we need not just synthetic spider silk, but a liquid form that can solidify once printed. I would imagine it is going to be two or more liquids mixing together at the printhead and then bonding and solidifying with the adjacent layers, like spider silk epoxy.

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No, but there is research towards it

there are two methods to look at. Replicating spider spinnerets and the correct glands is very difficult but not impossible. It is currently a focus of research becasue it would both produce and shape the silk.

The other method is using vat grown silk and pulling it through a printing process, Not yet possible but will probably happen before the first since it involves fewer new processes, possibly. Spider silk can already be added to printer media and printed, but this only makes up a portion of the material. It cannot be printed by itself yet, which is what everyone wants.

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spiders silk can't be synthesized very accurately. Carbon is much easier to integrate into 3D prints, it's very commercialized, and only 1-2 3D printers using carbon is available. Silk is much more complex:

They still don't understand the structure and lacing of the proteins very well. milestones of research demonstrate the technical difficulty of the task:

"Solid-State C-13 Nmr of Nephila-Clavipes Dragline Silk Establishes Structure and Identity of Crystalline Regions" 1994

"The molecular structure of spider dragline silk: Folding and orientation of the protein backbone"2002

"Molecular orientation and two-component nature of the crystalline fraction of spider dragline silk"1996

"Stretching of supercontracted fibers: a link between spinning and the variability of spider silk"2005

Spider silk is immensely complex, and contains multiop;e proteins woven together in specific patterns to achieve different elasticity and strength, and the spiders typically have mutliple glands for different types of silk, which use very specific pH gradients and complex chemistry and physics, which we can't match at all.

this page gives some info on recent industrial advances: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170109124957.htm it sais that you need 1000 protein fibers wound together to make a single spider's silk thread.

this page gives recent advance. http://cen.acs.org/articles/92/i9/Spider-Silk-Poised-Commercial-Entry.html For the moment, spider's silk is not commercially available for textiles or fibers, except for stuff taken out of a spider. A spider isn't heavy you can't print much from a spider :)

for the recent spider silk news, see here:

it's all research news as of summer 2017, not sales and business news. so... spiders silk can't be synthesized with volume and accuracy to compete in any commercial fields. Making some of the proteins found in the silk is only the smallest and easiest part of the puzzle.

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There are commercial spider silk projects:

In May 2017 Kraiglabs delivered spider silk samples to a US military contractor:

“We are pleased to report that we have delivered the first samples of Dragon Silk to our US Army sponsor for independent performance confirmation,” said the Company’s COO Jon Rice. “These samples mark the starting point for what we hope will be a long lasting and profound impact on protective equipment for those dedicated to protecting us. The speed that our Indiana facility was able to ramp up to meet this request helps to confirm, that we have the ability to promptly deliver a top quality, cost effective, fiber to the Army and future commercial customers.”

Bolt Threads presented it's first Spider Silk product at SXSW:

Bolt Threads, a San Francisco-based start-up working on the next generation of advanced materials, is unveiling a limited edition knit necktie, made of its 100% Boltspun spider silk. [...] More specifically his team of dozens of scientists, engineers, technicians and designers, have developed a way to closely mimic silk created in nature by producing a fiber from corn syrup that was fed to a yeast fermentation, which secretes a 80kDa Major Ampullate (dragline) spidroin protein. Once the protein is harvested and purified into a powder, it is wet spun into fibres, twisted into yarns and knitted into the tie.

Last year Spiber announced a spider silk parka for the Japanese market:

The $1,000 "Moon parka," selling only in Japan, is a gold-colored jacket that uses the same design as typical North Face parkas. However, the item is made from a synthetic spider silk developed by Spiber, according to Bloomberg.

Producing a large amount of the silk doesn't seem to be a key problem. On the other hand, it's not clear that the current companies offer a product that you can use with a 3D printer.

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