German researchers have been working with golden silk orb-weaver spiders to gather their silk for testing as a potential material in human skin replacement. The photograph above is not the skin replacement, just an example of a textile woven from spider silk, as no photograph of the artificial skin was available. They found with the right conditions human skin cells† could grow on the spider silk. Keratinocytes and fibroblasts, the two main cell types were successfully grown on spider silk in patterns similar to what exists in live human skin. Spider silk was chosen because it is extremely strong, light in weight and stretches. It has been reported some spider silk† is actually five times stronger than steel, by weight. Spider silk is greener too because it doesn’t cause any toxic byproducts during processing and is biodegradable. (Some spiders also eat their own webs to recycle the protein to make a new one.)
“So silk could make for a very green product. Spider silk is also spun under benign ambient room-temperature conditions. That’s really different from something like nylon, which is a petroleum-based product thatís produced under high temperature, high-pressure conditions. Also, Kevlar has great attributes but it’s essentially inert – so if you want to dispose of it you pretty much have to incinerate it,” said a spider researcher. (Source: Wired.com)
Spider webs have been used in folk medicine to cover wounds, perhaps due to the fact they are high in vitamin K which helps with blood clotting. The silk from one spider has been used in animal brain cell regeneration research. Another potential medical application is tiny capsules containing trace amounts of drugs that can be targeted at very precise points because they are the size of a blood cell.
Other researchers have used genetic techniques to make it even stronger. Some other possible uses are:
- seat belts and airbags
- sporting goods
Video of a textile made from spider silk and exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History:
Image Credit: AMNH\R. Mickens