As spun silkworm (Bombyx mori) silk fibers were compared in terms of their tensile behavior and microstructure with fibers subjected to different degumming treatments. Fibers were initially retrieved by forced silking directly from the worms and, either characterized in the as spun condition, or subjected to one of the following treatments: immersion in water, conventional degumming or degumming under longitudinally constrained conditions. Microstructure was assessed by X-ray diffraction and Raman spectroscopy. In addition, polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis was used to determine the influence of degumming on silk at a molecular level. Our study not only shows that degumming represents a major contribution to the accepted idea of silkworm silk as a highly variable material, but also provides new insights in the relationship between microstructure and tensile behavior in these fibers. In particular, it is shown that the arrangement of the hydrogen bond network in fibers subjected to different treatments plays a critical role in determining the mechanical behavior of silkworm silk.
G. B. Perea, C. Solanas, N. Marí-Buyé, R. Madurga, F. Agulló-Rueda, A. Muinelo, C. Riekel, M. Burghammer, I. Jorge, J. Vázquez, G. R. Plaza, A. L. Torres, F. del Pozo, G. V. Guinea, M. Elices, J. L. Cenis, and J. Pérez-Rigueiro, “The apparent variability of silkworm (Bombyx mori) silk and its relationship with degumming,” Eur. Polym. J. 78, 129–140 (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.eurpolymj.2016.03.012