Image via Team Newcastle
It’s not that spiders are lazy, it’s just that the human demand for silk goes beyond what spiders naturally produce. Most of the uncuddly arachnoids can produce five types of silk, but they can’t make very much of any one of them, according to an article in today’s New York Times. And spiders are unlike honeybees in the socializing department. They prefer to be alone and dine on a steady serving of live insects. Or sometimes they eat each other. Cannibal spiders!
The good news is that silkworms, the source of most silk for clothing, do indeed live harmoniously together in colonies, and they have been doing so while producing silk for humans since such production began about 5,000 years ago in China. Our silk blouses are safe, hooray!
The problem is, scientists see so many amazing potential uses for the super-strong silk spiders make. Silkworms only produce one type, and it’s best for clothing or other uses where strength isn’t an issue. Spider silk, according to scientists in the NYT article, could be used for industrial applications like cables stronger than steel, bullet-proof vests, and crazy-strong glue. Spider silk could also have medical uses like electrodes that when implanted in the brain could block the action of epilepsy or other brain disorders.
So researchers have been working on more efficient and prolific methods to recreate spider silk. The article outlines various methods making headway, chiefly from David Kaplan’s lab at Tufts University.
So there you have it: silk is magical in many ways. Don’t you love it when science and fashion cross paths, if tenuously?