Behavior Biomechanics & Biomaterials Lab

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Blackledge Laboratory

Understanding the diversity of life requires the study of evolutionary processes across the biological hierarchy – from molecules to ecosystems. Biomaterials are a crucial link between these levels of organization because they act as a direct interface between the molecular physiologies of organisms and their environments. We use spiders to study the interactions that have occurred between silk genes, the physiological production and biomechanics of silk, and the ecological functions of silks during the 400 million year evolutionary diversification of spiders and their silk "toolkits". of this “biological super-material”. A single orb spider spins seven types of silk from discrete glands, composed of proteins with unique amino acid sequences. Each silk is used for distinct ecological functions and they are incredibly divergent in properties – dragline silk is as strong as steel while capture silk is as stretchy as rubber. Spider silks ranks among the toughest (energy absorbing) materials known, yet are produced under benign conditions in living tissue. Thus, spider silk is also the subject of intense research interest and funding from materials science, the military and industry. However, while our research has clear biomimetic implications, it is motivated primarily by the unique opportunity that spider silk presents to study evolutionary processes, particularly interactions between behaviors and biomaterials.

    

Current research

  • Evolutionary ecology of body size
  • Coevolution between animal behavior and and biomechanical innovations during spider diversification
  • "Bioprospecting" for evolutionary novelty
  • Comparative investigation of the molecular basis for spider silk's high performance
  • Functional ecologies of diverse of spider web architectures
  • Molecular phylogenetics of spiders
  • Biomimetic applications of spider silk for technology

 

Some of our lab's recent research in the news

Giant spider webs use the toughest biomaterial
Species of the year in Time magazine
BBC news
Discovery News
National Geographic
Smithsonian

Spiders glue is a viscoelastic solid
Intelligent glue
NPR
WKYC
National Science Foundation

Spider silk muscles
Discovery News
Plain Dealer
New Scientist
Popular Mechanics

Evolution of silk stickiness
BBC news

Spider web evolution
Plain Dealer

Spiders control silk properties and web architecture
National Geographic
New Scientist

 

Students

     I actively encourage undergraduate students to pursue their research in my laboratory. I welcome students from diverse backgrounds and interests. Click on the Research link to the left to see a few recent undergraduate projects.
     Graduate students interested in either MS or PhD research in my laboratory should contact me via email or phone.

 

 

 

Todd Blackledge
Department of Biology
University of Akron  
Akron, OH  44325-3908

(330)-972-7264  blackledge<at>uakron.edu

 

 
04/14/11

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This site was last updated 04/14/11