Scientist Web-Spinners Could Just Ask Spiderman

A team of scientists in Germany are making progress in understanding how spiders spin webs of great strength. Spider silk has been used for a long time because it has great tensile strength, which rivals that of high-grade steel, despite being much less dense.

Industrial quantities of artificial spider silk would be of great value; it could be used in bullet-proof vests, strong ropes and fishing nets. Spider silk has an additional property; it is biodegradable; it could be used as sutures that would just degrade over time in the body.

Natural spider silk has also been used as a folk remedy; when used to cover wounds it seems to improve the healing process.

Professor Andreas Bausch and his team claim to have solved one of the major problems; they've created an artificial spinning duct that mimics the spinneret of the spider. The spinneret is an organ which converts a liquid solution of stored protein into a strong, silken thread.

Professor Bausch said that the artificial spinning duct he and his colleagues have created brings together the unfolded proteins dissolved in the storage solution. That is done by squeezing them through a smaller and smaller hole until they emerge as a folded, insoluble sheet of proteins which form the solid fibre of silk.

Now, hasn't Spiderman already solved that problem? Bausch and his colleagues could have just googled it like I did.


(Spinneret Nozzle Closeup (via Marvel Universe))

The web fluid used by Spiderman is a shear-thickening fluid that is related to nylon.

Via Scientists succeed in mimicking the way spiders spin their super-strength webs; thanks to Moira for the tip (find out more about how Spidey does it at Marvel Universe Spider-Man's Web-Shooters).

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/1/2008)

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