A Newfound Respect for Spiders

I just read a fascinating article entitled “Spider silk ‘library’ could hold secrets for new materials”. It was quite an education. I had no idea how complex spider silk was.

Did you know that some spiders can produce multiple kinds of silk? Think about that for a minute. Can you push something out of your body that’s specific to one task, and then switch over to another end product that does something entirely different? I can’t. What amazingly complex creatures! And we think we’re so superior.

According to this article, “Some silk types can be stretchy, others stiff. Some dissolve in water, others repel it.”

It goes on to say that Orb-weaving spiders produce seven types of silk including one that “has a sticky glue to catch prey. Another is tough but stretchy to absorb the impact of flying insects. The spider dangles from a third type that’s as tough as steel.”

And that’s just one spider out of 48,000 species. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what spiders are capable of producing. And properly imitating those products could help us produce bulletproof vests, pesticides, space gear, biodegradable fishing lines, and fashionable dresses. (See my post on Ghost Fishing to understand how valuable those biodegradable fishing lines would be!)

Scientist Cheryl Hayashi, of the Museum of Natural History in New York, is hard at work sequencing the DNA of the infinite variety of spider glands that produce these unique types of silk. It sounds like an exacting, time consuming job, but I can see why she finds it so absorbing. I mean, here are flexible building blocks, produced by bodies, that we’ve mostly been sweeping away with dusters, or shuddering at when we’ve accidentally walked through them.

It really makes me wish, once again, that I had majored in science.

Spider Silk

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