Maybe spiders are not the most attractive creatures and a lot of people are afraid of them, but their creation – cobwebs can not leave us indifferent. What is more, spiders are one of the oldest inhabitants of our planet, who had lived in our land over 200 million years ago. There are about 35 thousand species of spiders in nature. Their most distinguishing feature is the ability to produce spider silk, natural fiber of a great strength. Spiders use cobwebs for various purposes: they make cocoons for eggs out of silk, build shelter for winter, use it for jumping.
American biologists created transgenic silkworms which are capable of producing a very strong silk. This spider silk is stronger than steel. It is elastic and can be degraded by microorganisms and is also able to withstand extreme temperatures. Unfortunately, until now, many of these facts were unknown to science.
Robust and at the same time flexible spider silk is ideal for surgery as well, it helps to maintain a donor organ during transplantation, it can also be used in aerospace engineering. Spider silk is widely used in microsurgery, especially eye microsurgery that requires the most “delicate” and at the same time strong thread. In 1709, frenchman Bon de Saint-Hilaire demonstrated the possibility of creating a fabric made of spider silk. Lots of socks and gloves were manufactured. But economically it was not profitable. It has been estimated that in order to produce one kilogram of silk, you need 1.3 million of spider cocoons.
Spider silk is used for many purposes. Polynesian fishermen used the thread of a golden orb-web spider as a scaffold. In New-Hebrides spider silk was used to make nets for the transportation of arrow heads, tobacco and poison for arrowheads. Some tribes in New Guinea used spider silk for hats production to protect their heads from the rain. In Madagascar attempts to use spiders for silk production were made. When the spider produced the most possible amount of silk and was exhausted, it was released into the forest and the next spider was taken instead. Collected silk was of a beautiful golden color and very solid.
Interesting fact: the silk thread of a pencil size is able to stop Boeing 747 flying at full speed, this thin thread can stop a bee flying at full speed. Spider silk is not only very strong, but very resilient as well. Because of these qualities, spider silk is tougher than any other material or metal known to us.
It is important to note that spider silk or “dragon silk” is not as durable as kevlar, the last one is one-third stronger. However, spider silk can be improved and, most importantly, it retains its strength, can stretch and is extremely plastic. This not only allows you to move freely, but opens up the possibility to create an armadillo suit.
Despite the achievements and scientific and technological progress, humanity has yet to unravel many mysteries of creatures of nature – animals and insects. For the time being, artificial spider silk is not as good as natural one, but the scientists hope that soon they will be able to create a synthetic analogue which will surpass natural material in all respects.
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