Spider dragline silk as torsional actuator driven by humidity

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Science Advances  01 Mar 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 3, eaau9183
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau9183


Self-powered actuation driven by ambient humidity is of practical interest for applications such as hygroscopic artificial muscles. We demonstrate that spider dragline silk exhibits a humidity-induced torsional deformation of more than 300°/mm. When the relative humidity reaches a threshold of about 70%, the dragline silk starts to generate a large twist deformation independent of spider species. The torsional actuation can be precisely controlled by regulating the relative humidity. The behavior of humidity-induced twist is related to the supercontraction behavior of spider dragline silk. Specifically, molecular simulations of MaSp1 and MaSp2 proteins in dragline silk reveal that the unique torsional property originates from the presence of proline in MaSp2. The large proline rings also contribute to steric exclusion and disruption of hydrogen bonding in the molecule. This property of dragline silk and its structural origin can inspire novel design of torsional actuators or artificial muscles and enable the development of designer biomaterials.

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