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Melding behavioural ecology and biomaterials research to track the evolution of mechanical super-performance of spider silk composites


Many organisms assemble biological materials into architectures and tools that add and extend biological functions - with profound ecological effects, and inspiring human technologies. However, there is no general concept of how evolutionary bio-material innovation arises from both the physiological and the behavioural recombination of compounds. SuPerSilk aims to understand how mechanical super-performance evolves by disentangling the concerted effects of both physiological and behavioural factors on structure-function relationships, utilizing spiders and their silk products as a model system. Specifically, SuPerSilk will (1) determine if the diversification into different types of silk glands facilitated the evolvability of spider silk performance, (2) test if the behavioural combination of different spider silks into compound threads provides a fast track for the evolution of thread performance and an extension of performance limits, (3) test whether similar thread functions evolved via repeated or alternative pathways, and (4) establish a roadmap for the targeted bioprospecting of silk compounds with specific properties. Being the first project that will jointly track the evolution of base materials and their behaviourally assembled compound products, SuPerSilk will address a timely question in evolutionary biology: if and how the evolvability of physical traits can be modified by the evolution of novel behaviours and vice versa. The outcome will be a precedent for the integrative study of animal products that will establish a new line of research: evolutionary materials. In addition, by probing the structure-function relationship of behaviourally assembled silk composites, SuPerSilk will reinvigorate efforts to develop super-tough biofibres for industrial applications, a field that has stagnated in recent years, and enable the engineering of bio-fabrics with tailorable properties.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 788 003,00
17489 Greifswald

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Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Vorpommern-Greifswald
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 788 003,00

Beneficiaries (1)