A new spin on silk: Silkworms in Singapore are weaving cocoons in brilliant colors. A team at the country’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, part of the government’s lead agency for science and technology, is hoping to do away with the laborious and water-intensive silk-dyeing process by feeding domesticated silkworms (Bombyx mori) fluorescent molecules mixed into their natural diet of mulberry powder. The worms’ silk glands take up the dye and incorporate it into the silk fibers they produce, lead author Natalia C. Tansil says. The luminescent silk, described in a recent online edition of Advanced Materials, also has potential applications for tissue engineering because it allows a clear—and bright—way to monitor scaffolds implanted to rebuild tissue or bone. More research is needed for this biomedical application, but Tansil is hopeful that a textile product will be available within a few years.
This article was originally published with the title "What is it?" in Scientific American 304, 5, 20 (May 2011)