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Spinning a Web of Secrets

When you see a spider, your first inclination may be to step on it, or scream and run away.

But engineers would do the opposite, as they are trying to unlock one of nature’s greatest mysteries: a spider’s ability to produce silk.

Silk is an extremely valuable material; it is tougher than steel but still amazingly flexible.

But even though scientists understand that silk is a simple protein processed from water, they do not understand exactly how it is actually made.

They know that spiders pull silk out of special glands instead of secreting it, and they know that silkworms create silk by moving their heads in a figure-eight motion.

But when it comes to figuring out how to reverse-engineer the silk protein fibers, it is still a mystery.

If engineers knew how to replicate and modify silk, it could lead to new breakthroughs in medicine, among other fields.

Silk could be used to safely administer drugs within the body, or to create wax-free sutures that the body would be able to gradually absorb.

And if silk research led to genetically engineering other organisms to produce silk proteins, then plants could produce silk as a crop and be harvested the same way as cotton.

Now if only we could figure out how exactly that spider spins its web.

Watch the video and see how silkworms and spiders work their magic:

Image: photofarmer / Flickr

One Response to “Spinning a Web of Secrets”

  1. […] limited to machines and products but can also involve the study of nature and biomimickry, as this eGFI article on spiders’ silk […]

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