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Spiders Drink Nanotubes, Spin Kevlar-Strength Web

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After drinking carbon nanotubes, lab spiders spun silk capable of holding a person. Sweet dreams.

spiderweb strength
Yintan, via Wikimedia Commons

File this under “reasons not to sleep.” Scientists in Italy and the U.K. have enabled spiders to spin enhanced webs as strong as Kevlar. Go ahead, board up your windows. I’ll wait.

The study, published this August in the journal 2D Materials, found that spiders fed a special diet of graphene produced silk five times stronger than non-enhanced silk. That puts it in line with the material used to make bulletproof vests – strong enough even to hold a human.

Graphene Spider Silk

Thankfully, the researchers believe this could benefit humanity rather than spell its demise. The study’s lead researcher, Nicola Pugno, suggested the enhanced silk could improve high-stress materials like parachutes and climbing ropes.

carbon nanotube
Carbon nanotube matrix, the same substance reinforcing spider silk in this study. Image courtesy: Mstroeck

“It is among the best spun polymer fibers in terms of tensile strength, ultimate strain, and especially toughness, even when compared to synthetic fibers such as Kevlar,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

So far, the research team has harvested only small amounts of the super silk. Plus, the spiders only produce the bionic webbing as long as they’re fed nanotubes in enriched solution.

Still, Pugno and her colleagues want to explore the potential beyond textiles.

“This process of the natural integration of reinforcements in biological structural materials could also be applied to other animals and plants, leading to a new class of ‘bionicomposites’ for innovative applications,” she said.

Think bionic body armor or carbon-reinforced bones. Until then, we’ll sleep easier thinking about millions of mega-spiders spinning safer, tougher-than-steel gear.

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