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Man-Made Spider Webs Stronger than Steel

March 14, 2005
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This was accomplished by scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and from Germany and England. The discovery opens the way to commercial development of spider fiber for numerous industrial applications. The spider silk, known as dragline fiber, has great strength and elasticity. It is six times stronger than nylon and steel fiber of equal diameter and serves the spider as a “lifeline” if it falls. The fiber, one-thousandth of a millimeter in diameter, is likely to be useful in the future for the manufacturing of bulletproof vests, surgical thread, micro-conductors, optical fibers, fishing rods, and even new types of clothing.

Silk has been used by mankind for thousands of years, but unlike silkworms, spiders are territorial in nature and not subject to domestication and commercial growth in quantities. Scientists have tried to create spider webs, but these efforts were unsuccessful in producing fibers with properties similar to the natural one.

Now, the Israeli-European team has succeeded, through genetic engineering, in creating spontaneous production of spider web fiber in insect cell cultures. These fibers were equal in their chemical-resistance characteristics to those produced by the spider. The researchers are now hoping to be able to create conditions that will make it possible to produce the spider fibers in quantity without having to do this within insect cells. Their research is featured in Current Biology, November 23, 2004, issue.

For further information, please contact Uri Gat at the Department of Cell and Animal Biology, Silberman Life Sciences Institute, Edmond Safra Campus at Givat Ram, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem 91904, Israel; Tel: 972-2-658-5920; Fax: 972-2-658-5920; E-mail: gatu@vms.huji.ac.il; Web site: www.huji.ac.il

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