Spiders spin new fiber for textile industry

By Peter Kent

SpiderThe search is on to discover how spiders can produce one of the strongest fibers known to man – spider silk. Finer than human hair, lighter than cotton, and ounce-for-ounce five times stronger than steel, the potential uses and benefits of the new material would be nearly limitless: wear-resistant clothes and footwear, stronger seatbelts, corrosion-free car panels and bumpers, improved sutures and bandages, artificial tendons and ligaments and safer bulletproof vests for soldiers and police.

Clemson Coker Chair for Genetics Bert Abbott and other genetics and bioengineering scientists are using golden orb-weaving spiders to learn how to make artificial spider silk. It is tougher, “stretchier” and more waterproof than silkworm silk.

Researchers are exploring the gene sequence that allows the spider to produce the protein that composes the silk. Using biotechnology, they have spliced the spider’s silk-making gene into bacteria, which then produces the basic protein. It is part of the field of biomimetics – mimicking nature to create new materials for the fiber business. Their goal is to create a synthetic silk fiber equal to or better than its natural counterpart.

For information: Bert Abbott, 864-656-3060, aalbert@clemson.edu