Spider silk is one of the strongest fibres found in nature. Scientists in Japan have found a way of harnessing its power. Researchers at Shinshu University have succeeded in injecting spider genes into silkworms to create a thread that is stronger, softer and more durable than conventional silk. A Japanese manufacturer is already experimenting with the thread, and spider socks, stockings and even fishing lines are expected to appear on the market within a few years.
Spider “farming” is impossible because of their territorial and cannibalistic nature. Five years ago American geneticists devised a way of generating spider silk by extruding it from the udders of female goats. However, the Japanese technique employs a much more manageable creature - the silkworm. Silkworm eggs are injected with the genes of the golden orb spider. The silkworm caterpillars that emerge from the eggs weave cocoons, of which 10 per cent consist of spider proteins. These are spun into silk. It is hoped that the proportion of spider thread material will be increased to 50 per cent.
Although it is likely to have many applications in the future the only company developing commercial applications for the spider silk is Okamoto, a business based in Nara, central Japan, which plans to release extra-thin and durable spider socks by about 2010.
Just another little bit of proof that nature is wonderful!