Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reeling: 1st attempt

My first attempt at reeling was not a great success. However, I am going to report what I did anyway.

I boiled a little water in a pan, and then turned off the heat. After allowing it to cool for a few seconds I added the semi-opaque cocoon. It floated.

I then stirred the cocoon in the water for a few minutes until it leaked, filled with water and sank. I then noticed that some of the cocoon had come away from the rest. I have discovered that this is because a silkworm silk consists of two proteins - two strands of fibroin which are insoluble (the brin), and sericin which glues the two brin strands together. The sericin glue is water-soluble, and some of this dissolved enough for me to catch some of these fibroin strands on my pencil.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get a single thread of silk (a bave = two brin glued together), and resigned myself to pulling away several fibres at once. However, I kept pulling, and found that more and more silk came away from the cocoon until there was only some residual silk left surrounding the pupa. This silk (called the pelade) is slightly different from the rest of the silk in the cocoon and is generally left behind in the reeling process. In cross-section, under the microscope, the silk fibres of the palade look flat, whereas silk fibres of the main part of the cocoon have a circular cross-section. The silk of the outer floss is different again, and is elliptical.

So the silk I eventually wound around my pencil wasn't a single fibre. It was also of variable thickness and fairly short. I am blaming this on the inferior quality of the cocoon and the lazy nature of the silkworm inside, which obviously couldn't be bothered to finish the thing off.

I know this because after I had finished I looked at the 'corpse' inside the cocoon and discovered that it looked like the beginnings of a pupa.

Even though I found this slightly disturbing I have to confess that a small part of me also wondered how it would taste like fried in oil.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

A small part of me would like to know how you found it, once fried in oil!

Fri Jan 30, 04:45:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Somewhat bitter, Marly.

Fri Jan 30, 08:05:00 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

All in the sake of research, right?

Fri Jan 30, 11:45:00 am  
Blogger Andrew said...

For the good of us all, lLare, I think you should be locked up. Either that or write interesting novels about ununsual subjects.

Sat Jan 31, 02:30:00 am  
Blogger Andrew said...

Not lLare, but CLare, in case you were wondering, and had momentarily forgotten your own name.

Sat Jan 31, 02:30:00 am  
Blogger Andrew said...

Or even Clare

Sat Jan 31, 02:31:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Andrew,

Thank you for flagging this one up. I am monitoring her medication.


Sat Jan 31, 09:50:00 am  
Blogger Andrew said...

Your presence is a great relief, Dr Grump. Yours is a grave responsibility.

Sat Jan 31, 02:16:00 pm  
Blogger jem said...

There is something a little tragic about your attempts to unwind what the silkie has worked to spin, but equally something very real and existential about it.

If you left the rest of the cocoons, would the worms change into moths inside? what do you plan to do with the rest of them? reel them? or let them hatch?

(I just persuaded my partner to come and look at your silkie posts - as I'd been going on about them quite a bit - their reaction was quite a lot of interest, but then a final statement of 'It's quite a strange thing to do though isn't it?'!!!)

Sun Feb 01, 01:00:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I suppose it must seem like that to some people, Jem!

Strange, as you were writing this - I was just writing about doing exactly this!

Sun Feb 01, 01:19:00 pm  

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