A Comparison of the Chemical Structures and Production Methods of Silk and Artificial Silk

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A Comparison of the Chemical Structures and Production Methods of Silk and Artificial Silk

Abstract

Despite their seemingly similar exteriors, the chemical structures and production methods

of natural silk and the artificial silks rayon and nylon are quite different. Silk yarn, extracted

from the cocoon of the Bombyx mori moth, is made up of fibroin molecules with beta-pleated

sheet secondary structures. The fibroin molecules consist of crystalline fibers constructed of

regularly paralleled, unfolded polypeptide chains of polyglycylalanine mixed with an amorphous

part. Although viscose rayon was originally called “artificial silk,” it is not a truly synthetic

fiber, as it is made from wood pulp, a naturally-occurring, cellulose-based material. Nylon,

however, is a synthetic fiber. It is a polyamide whose molecular chains are formed by regularly

spaced –CONH– amide groups. Nylon 6-6, or poly(hexamethylneadipamide), is composed of

two structural monomers (hexamethylendiamine (H2N(CH2)6NH2) and adipic acid

(HOOC(CH2)4COOH), whereas Nylon 6, or poly(6-caprolactam), is composed of a single

structural unit (either 6-aminocaproic acid (H2N(CH2)4COOH) or caprolactam). Ultimately, the

different chemistries and production methods of these fibers give them certain advantages (such

as viscose’s ability to combine with other fibers to create new fabrics easily) and disadvantages

(such as nylon’s quickly weakening fibers or natural silk’s difficulty of production) over one

another that make them more or less suitable for certain purposes. For this reason, when

considering silk and artificial silk, it is illogical to pick one fiber that is superior to the others and

to focus on the production of that specific fiber.

A Compa...

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