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A New Kind of World Wide Web…
The golden orb spider has been used in the past to create silk for garments. The difficulty with spider silk lies in the quantity of silk needed to make it into a useable textile.
For all those who suffer with arachnophobia (and I’m there with you) we have some very exciting news for you. Instead of just being creepy-crawlies that seem to infest our houses at this time of year, they could potentially fulfil a useful role in the textiles industry!
In previous years, the silk industry has relied on the cocoons of the silk worm for its primary supply. The silkworm is the larva or caterpillar of the domesticated silk moth, Bombyx Mori (Latin: “silkworm of the mulberry tree”) and is an economically important insect. The cocoon is made of one thread of raw silk from 300 to 900 meters (1000 to 3000 feet) long. The fibres are very thin; about 2,000 to 5,000 cocoons are needed to make a pound of silk.
This dependence upon the silk worm is risky for a number of reasons. For instance, a silkworm’s preferred food is white mulberry leaves, (though they may eat other mulberry species and even Osage orange); so what happens if there is a pandemic Mulberry tree disease or even a disease affecting the Silk Worms themselves?
Scientists and designers have until very recently overlooked the potential of the hardworking spider!
Yes, believe it or not spider’s silk, used to make their webs, has many good attributes. It can be tougher than steel, more tear-resistant than Kevlar and extremely elastic and lightweight with some silks stretching up to five times their own size. Add to this the arachnids’ chemist skills (spiders often imbue their silk with water wicking and anti-fungal properties) and you have a valuable material.
Humans have been slow to take advantage of this due to the difficulty of procuring enough thread to create a useful amount of silk. In recent years, the genetic revolution meant that there was the possibility of the process being recreated by giving more domesticated species the DNA to create spider silk; using genetically modified E. Coli bacteria, yeast, tobacco plants, and even goats could do the job. However, the process is still very difficult, depending on many tightly controlled elements.
At the moment the use of spider silk in the clothing industry is not a reality but science and technology is progressing very fast. This is something that once perfected could be a huge advantage to the entire clothing industry with a “spin” over (excuse the pun) into the uniform market too! Silk is traditionally expensive, delicate, and far from robust enough to be used in corporate clothing but with the increased strength and durability of spider silk it may one day become viable.
If nothing else, you now have some impressive facts at your fingertips to share with family and friends, who will undoubtedly be impressed with your knowledge about these apparently insignificant and sometimes scary creatures!