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In the World of Science LX: Golden Spider Silk Cloth
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2009 2:31 pm    Post subject: In the World of Science LX: Golden Spider Silk Cloth Reply with quote

1 Million Spiders Make Golden Silk for Rare Cloth

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/09/spider-silk/

Quote:
A rare textile made from the silk of more than a million wild spiders goes on display today at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

To produce this unique golden cloth, 70 people spent four years collecting golden orb spiders from telephone poles in Madagascar, while another dozen workers carefully extracted about 80 feet of silk filament from each of the arachnids. The resulting 11-foot by 4-foot textile is the only large piece of cloth made from natural spider silk existing in the world today.

“Spider silk is very elastic, and it has a tensile strength that is incredibly strong compared to steel or Kevlar,” said textile expert Simon Peers, who co-led the project. “There’s scientific research going on all over the world right now trying to replicate the tensile properties of spider silk and apply it to all sorts of areas in medicine and industry, but no one up until now has succeeded in replicating 100 percent of the properties of natural spider silk.”

Peers came up with the idea of weaving spider silk after learning about the French missionary Jacob Paul Camboué, who worked with spiders in Madagascar during the 1880s and 1890s. Camboué built a small, hand-driven machine to extract silk from up to 24 spiders at once, without harming them.

“Simon managed to build a replica of this 24-spider-silking machine that was used at the turn of the century,” said Nicholas Godley, who co-led the project with Peers. As an experiment, the pair collected an initial batch of about 20 spiders. “When we stuck them in the machine and started turning it, lo and behold, this beautiful gold-colored silk started coming out,” Godley said.

But to make a textile of any significant size, the silk experts had to drastically scale up their project. “Fourteen thousand spiders yields about an ounce of silk,” Godley said, “and the textile weighs about 2.6 pounds. The numbers are crazy.”

Researchers have long been intrigued by the unique properties of spider silk, which is stronger than steel or Kevlar but far more flexible, stretching up to 40 percent of its normal length without breaking. Unfortunately, spider silk is extremely hard to mass produce: Unlike silk worms, which are easy to raise in captivity, spiders have a habit of chomping off each other’s heads when housed together.

To get as much silk as they needed, Godley and Peers began hiring dozens of spider handlers to collect wild arachnids and carefully harness them to the silk-extraction machine. “We had to find people who were willing to work with spiders,” Godley said, “because they bite.”

By the end of the project, Godley and Peers extracted silk from more than 1 million female golden orb spiders, which are abundant throughout Madagascar and known for the rich golden color of their silk. Because the spiders only produce silk during the rainy season, workers collected all the spiders between October and June.

Then an additional 12 people used hand-powered machines to extract the silk and weave it into 96-filament thread. Once the spiders had been milked, they were released into back into the wild, where Godley said it takes them about a week to regenerate their silk. “We can go back and re-silk the same spiders,” he said. “It’s like the gift that never stops giving.”

Of course, spending four years to produce a single textile of spider silk isn’t very practical for scientists trying to study the properties of spider silk or companies that want to manufacture the fabric for use as a biomedical scaffold or an alternative to Kevlar armor. Several groups have tried inserting spider genes into bacteria (or even cows and goats) to produce silk, but so far, the attempts have been only moderately successful.

Part of the reason it’s so hard to generate spider silk in the lab is that it starts out as a liquid protein that’s produced by a special gland in the spider’s abdomen. Using their spinnerets, spiders apply a physical force to rearrange the protein’s molecular structure and turn it into solid silk.

“When we talk about a spider spinning silk, we’re talking about how the spider applies forces to produce a physical transformation from liquid to solid,” said spider silk expert Todd Blackledge of the University of Akron, who was not involved in creating the textile. “Scientists simply can’t replicate that as well as a spider does it. Every year we’re getting closer and closer to being able to mass-produce it, but we’re not there yet.”

For now, it seems we’ll have to be content with one incredibly beautiful cloth, graciously provided by more than a million spiders.

I know it's not the most practical consideration but I wonder how it feels.
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WheelsOfConfusion



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PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2009 5:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm surprised it didn't break down over four years.
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Yorick



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PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2009 8:25 pm    Post subject: Re: In the World of Science LX: Golden Spider Silk Cloth Reply with quote

Darqcyde wrote:
while another dozen workers carefully extracted about 80 feet of silk filament from each of the arachnids..

the image that came to mind is holding a spider in one hand, and pulling the filament out of it with the other like floss from a, er, box of floss.
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Michael



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PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2009 10:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

done that

I mean

caught a lot of spiders recently. Let them all settle in my room over the summer (left my windows open for months) but then it got out of hand so I spent a few hours removing spiders from my room. You can catch them by running something like a nail file or a letter opener over the ceiling and then you see them float. float! so weird, they go up and down 'n stuff it's really really weird sometimes

anyway

I wonder what it feels like too
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nathan



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PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 4:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mankind was not meant to milk spiders. Repent!
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Kilgore



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PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 5:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's right. If we were meant to milk spiders we would have been born with some sort of spider milking aparatus.
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Mr. Meddler



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PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2009 4:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote



Isn't it beautiful??
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DeD CHiKn



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PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2009 11:52 am    Post subject: Re: In the World of Science LX: Golden Spider Silk Cloth Reply with quote

Darqcyde wrote:
I wonder how it feels.


Id imagine very awesome.
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picturesofsky



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PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2009 12:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Isn't it beautifuaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!


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mouse



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PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2009 7:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

yeah, you see the cloth, and you think 'oooooo- want!'

and then you see the spiders and think '......not so much'.

i wonder how they control whether the spiders are spinning sticky or non-sticky silk - or can they destickify it?

and if they can - can they send me some of the destickifying stuff? i was doing some dusting this weekend and _man_ does that stuff stick to everything.
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WheelsOfConfusion



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PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2009 8:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can see the ad campaigns now!
"When you lay yourself down to sleep at night, wrap up with the same peaceful shroud that entombs hapless insects caught fast in the spider's web of death.

Spidersilks Inc. For a rest so comfortable, you won't be able to free yourself from it either."
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mouse



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PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2009 9:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

it'll be a killer ad campaign.
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E-boy



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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 6:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think the spiders only do the blobs of sticky stuff when they are actually constructing parts of a web. They don't, for example, do the sticky stuff when they're dangling from stuff waiting patiently to get in your hair and scare the crap out of you.


Spiders do all sorts of trapping though. From the sneaky trap door types to varieties that do a sort of net casting, to my personal fave bolo spiders that make little blobs of sticky silk and fling it on to passing insects and then reel 'em in.
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gally912



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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 7:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You know, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure ya have to kill the spiders to get the silk out.

Thats a lot of spiders.
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picturesofsky



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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 7:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

At least try to fucking read, Gally.
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