Creepy and crawly though they may be, spiders do have their place. For one, they play a role in munching on even more unwelcome pests, such as flies and mosquitoes.
For another, the silk they use to spin their webs is one of the strongest materials on the planet. Have you ever walked in the woods, only to stumble across a huge web spanning between trees, sparkling with morning dew? Sounds beautiful, right?
THEN, of course, your eyes shift to search for the creator–where is it? Is it about to jump on you? Is it dangerous? Then you see her, perched up in the corner, doing no harm.
Has it ever occurred to you to wonder how silk so fine can support her weight?
Why is spider silk so unique?
According to Cosmos, “Gram for gram, spider silk is an extremely tough and flexible material, and is the focus of widespread research because of its potential industrial uses.” It’s the proteins in these silken strands that render it stronger than steel and more elastic than a rubber band.
Due to its unique qualities, spider silk is being studied for use in the medical field, construction, and…the military, even. Darwin’s bark spider, native to Madagascar, was recently discovered to have a type of spider silk that is 10 times stronger than Kevlar.
Though it appears to be a miracle substance in the lab, so far it has proven tricky to artificially manufacture–or produce on a large scale.
“Utah State University spider-silk researcher Randy Lewis says, “virtually nobody has had a sufficient amount of spider-silk material to make a full-scale test of these product ideas.” The problem is that spiders tend to be murderous and cannibalistic toward each other—they’re not exactly what you might call farm-friendly animals. That makes spider silk difficult to mass produce, and harvesting it from the wild can take years.
With our new silkworms, we’re going to be able to change that completely,” Lewis says. He’s part of a team that recently used worms to create spider silk. The researchers added genes that code for spider-silk proteins into the silkworms’ DNA, and the transgenic worms spun those spider proteins into their own silk.
Although scientists have been harvesting similar proteins from the milk of transgenic goats, it has been difficult to find the right equipment to spin the tiny molecules into thread, he says. This new approach streamlines production since silkworms do the spinning themselves.
The resulting fibers are twice as strong and twice as elastic as normal silkworm silk. And since silkworms are vegetarians, they are highly farmable and have already proven their ability to make silk on an industrial scale.
If the technique is perfected, it could finally enable researchers and inventors to test the craziest possible applications of spider silk, and to bring its unique mechanical properties to the mass market. ” (Popular Mechanics)
If spider silk could be produced on a large scale, we may see things like bullet-proof clothing come to life. In the medical field, scientists would be able to grow artificial skin to aid in recovery for burn victims. Surgeons might be able to implant artificial ligaments into those who have damaged the critical ACL.
Will you or I see these scientific advancements in our lifetime? I certainly hope so.
Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity: keeping customers first, protecting the environment, and providing trustworthy, personal service.
Universal: Honest, Environmentally Friendly Pest Control