Silk Offers Homemade Solution for COVID-19 Prevention – More Protection Than Cotton Face Masks

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Silk Face Masks

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UC postdoctoral scientist Adam Parlin holds up a silk face mask. A UC research study discovered that silk masks may work much better at warding off COVID-19 than cotton or artificial masks. Credit: Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative

Biology research study discovers silk deals more defense than cotton or synthetics.

With individual protective devices still in brief supply, scientists at the University of Cincinnati analyzed what typical family materials may work best as a face covering.

Next to a single-use N95 respirator or surgical mask, UC discovered the very best option might be made by a starving little caterpillar. Silk deal with masks are comfy, breathable, and fend off wetness, which is a preferable quality in combating an air-borne infection. 

Perhaps most importantly, silk includes natural antimicrobial, anti-bacterial and antiviral residential or commercial properties that might assist fend off the infection, stated Patrick Guerra, assistant teacher of biology in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Studies have actually revealed that copper, in specific, can eliminate germs and infections on contact. And that’s where the little caterpillars have their own superpower, Guerra stated.

“Copper is the big craze now. Silk has copper in it. Domesticated silk moths eat mulberry leaves. They incorporate copper from their diet into the silk,” Guerra stated.

Patrick Guerra

UC assistant teacher Patrick Guerra’s deal with silk moths motivated his research study into the very best masks to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative

Many healthcare companies use a surgical mask in mix with an N95 respirator. The external covering assists extend the life of the N95 respirator by keeping it tidy. Guerra, whose spouse, Evelyn, is a medical physician, stated silk may be a particularly great option for this external cover as they carry out likewise to surgical masks that remain in brief supply.

“Cotton traps moisture like a sponge. But silk is breathable. It’s thinner than cotton and dries really fast,” Guerra stated.

With COVID-19 rising in parts of the United States, face masks have actually ended up being a centerpiece of avoidance.

We’re attempting to resolve this vital issue. Health care employees still don’t have adequate individual protective devices, particularly N95 respirators or fundamental surgical masks.
Patrick Guerra, UC biologist

In the UC biology laboratory, scientists checked cotton and polyester material in addition to several kinds of silk to see how reliable a barrier each is for warding off water, representing breathing beads consisting of the infection. They discovered that silk worked far much better as a wetness barrier than either polyester or cotton, both of which take in water beads rapidly.

UC’s research study concluded that silk carries out likewise to surgical masks when utilized in combination with respirators however has actually the included benefits of being washable and repelling water, which would equate to assisting to keep an individual more secure from the air-borne infection.

“The ongoing hypothesis is that coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets,” Guerra stated. “If you wore layers of silk, it would prevent the droplets from penetrating and from being absorbed. Recent work by other researchers also found that increasing layers of silk improves filtration efficiency. This means that silk material can repel and filter droplets. And this function improves with the number of layers.”

The research study was released this month in the journal Plos One.

Adam Parlin Silk Face Mask

Postdoctoral scientist Adam Parlin holds up a styrofoam head curtained with a silk mask. UC biologists analyzed how well deal with masks made from various products pushed back water or aerosolized beads. Silk hindered the penetration and absorption of liquid and aerosolized beads much better than cotton or artificial materials. Credit: Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

“We’re trying to address this critical problem. Health care workers still don’t have enough personal protective equipment, namely N95 respirators or basic surgical masks,” Guerra stated.

Previously, Guerra studied the neurobiology behind the unbelievable multigenerational migration of emperor butterflies throughout North America. Now UC trainees raise silk moths (Bombyx mori) in Guerra’s biology laboratory.

UC postdoctoral scientist Adam Parlin composed an undergraduate user’s manual for care and feeding of the moths he entitled, “How to Train Your Bombyx,” a riff on the DreamWorks’ animated dragon motion pictures. The cover includes a photo of the adult moth. With its huge head, massive eyes and fanned wings, the silk moth certainly looks like a night fury from the movies.

“These little guys are entertaining,” he stated.


A time-lapse video reveals a silkworm developing a cocoon in 72 hours. Credit: Adam Parlin

As part of his research study, Parlin studied how the caterpillars make their protective silk cocoons. When they reach a point in their life process, the caterpillars end up being manic workaholics. For 72 straight hours they spin and spin their silk to produce a glamorous, breathable fortress where they can pupate securely into a fuzzy white moth.

Researchers developed cardboard arenas with a wood dowel in the center upon which the caterpillars can spin their silk cocoons. The caterpillars work systematically and continuously, at first spinning silk from the top of the dowel at an angle to the cardboard like a camping tent. Once the camping tent is ended up, they operate in earnest on developing their grape-sized cocoon in a corner of it.

“If the cocoon gets damaged, they just build a second layer around it,” Parlin stated.

Silk Masks

UC discovered that silk fended off moisture much better than other typical materials utilized in face masks. Credit: Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

The moisture-trapping cocoon offers a perfect microclimate to keep the caterpillars delighted regardless of any unexpected modifications in the weather condition.

“The silk cocoons prevent moisture from getting in and keeps the animal from desiccation or drying out,” Guerra stated.

Now Guerra is examining the length of time the infection makes it through on silk and other products.

As lacks of individual protective devices continue to pester healthcare companies, Guerra stated homemade masks will continue to play an essential function in keeping individuals safe from COVID-19.

“Silk has been with us for a while — since the days of the Silk Road,” Guerra stated. “It’s not a new fabric, yet now we’re finding all these new uses for it.”

Reference: “A laboratory-based study examining the properties of silk fabric to evaluate its potential as a protective barrier for personal protective equipment and as a functional material for face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic” by Adam F. Parlin, Samuel M. Stratton, Theresa M. Culley and Patrick A. Guerra, 18 September 2020, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239531