Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Reinvention of Silk
from the New York Times (Registration Required)

As some silk researchers see it, if spiders were gregarious vegetarians, the world might be a different place. For spiders are nature's master silk makers, and over millions of years of evolution have developed silks that could be useful to people--from sticky toothpastelike mush to strong and stretchy draglines.

"There's not just one kind of material we're talking about," said Cheryl Hayashi, who studies the evolutionary genetics of spider silk at the University of California, Riverside. "You can look in nature, and there are a lot of solutions already made. You want a glue? There's a silk that's already a glue."

For years there has been talk of the bright promise of spider silk: that it might one day be used to make cables that are stronger than those of steel, for example, or bulletproof vests that are more effective than those made of Kevlar. There has been a big fly in the ointment, however: spiders cannot spin enough of the stuff.

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