Scientists Say Spider Silk Is Their Ultimate Secret Weapon
The protein-rich fiber is strong enough to build military body armor.
In real life, Spider Man could actually scale buildings with his spider silk. And this isn’t just a Marvel Comics invention — it’s science.
According to Scientific American, the movies actually underestimate the strength of this incredible fiber. In real life, one dragline strand is stronger than steel, even though it’s only about one-tenth the diameter of human hair.
What’s more, spider silk is tougher than Kevlar and stretchier than a rubber band. As such, it has many potential uses in medicine, construction and even militarily. Like what, you ask? To start, spider silk could be used for skin grafts, bandages, suspension bridge cables, gentler airbags and even bullet-proof clothing.
So what’s the deal with this mind-blowing thread? It’s comprised of long chains of linked protein molecules. While spinning, the spider secretes a protein out of a narrow duct. During this process, the acidity changes and the pressure increases, which causes the molecules to form chains.
And the tough fiber doesn’t tangle. A recent study out of the American Institute of Physics pinpointed why repelling spiders don’t spiral out of control. Turns out, spider silk partially yields when it’s twisted, which dissipates the energy that would otherwise cause the arachnid to plummet to the end of its silk.
Further research of these untwist-able properties could lead to biomimetic fibers that could be used in helicopter rescue ladders and parachute cords.
So what’s the catch? Spiders are notoriously tricky to farm, because they produce such small quantities of silk — oh, and they tend to be cannibalistic little buggers.
However, Swedish researchers were able to create a synthetic spider silk earlier this year using proteins in E.coli bacteria and a “spinning apparatus” that mimicked the pH changes that occur when spiders spin silk.
This enabled them to recreate the fiber without using harsh chemicals. According to the team, this new, synthetic material may eventually prove useful in regenerative medicine.
If this technique is perfected, it could enable scientists and inventors to create crazy-cool products that could greatly benefit the mass market.
Here’s hoping. ?