It is lighter than cotton, yet ounce for ounce it is stronger than steel. For decades scientists have studied the silk produced by orb-weaving spiders.
—the strongest of the seven silks these spiders can spin—
The manufacture of industrial fibers such as Kevlar requires high temperatures and the use of organic solvents. In contrast, spiders produce silk at room temperature, using water as a solvent. Furthermore, dragline silk is tougher than Kevlar.
If enlarged to the size of a football field, a web of dragline silk could stop a jumbo jet in flight!
Not surprisingly, researchers are intrigued by the toughness of dragline silk. “Scientists would like to exploit that property in items ranging from bulletproof vests to suspension cables for bridges,” writes Aimee Cunningham in Science News magazine.
But replicating dragline silk is not easy, for the material is made inside the spider’s body and the process is not yet fully understood.
“It’s humbling to realize that a lot of very smart people are trying to replicate what the spiders in our basements can do naturally,” says biologist Cheryl Y. Hayashi, quoted in Chemical & Engineering News magazine.