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Spider Silk - Body Armor

Kevlar is made of synthetic plastic-like threads which are woven together into fabric. This strong material is used worldwide by the military and law enforcement for protective body armor. Although very useful, the layers of fabric tend to be stiff and cumbersome.

Meanwhile, it has long been known that spider silk surpasses Kevlar in strength and can likewise be woven into fabric. The challenge has been harvesting the threads of spider silk on a large scale. The weaker threads made by silkworms can easily be gathered; however, spiders are less cooperative. In captivity they tend to fight each other rather than make fibers. Spiders tend to be solitary and simply do not get along with each other, making it impractical to harvest their silk.  

 Laboratory research is now leading to the production of spider-like thread by silkworms in abundance. This is accomplished by genetically adding to silkworms the spider protein instructions for making the stronger strands. One company calls their test product Dragon Silk.

Advantages of spider silk include its flexibility and light-weight nature. As another feature, the threads of many spiders tend to remain taunt even when brought together. There is a mechanism in the threads which “takes up the slack” and maintains tension when the thread is shortened.

The value of spider silk certainly includes bulletproof vests but goes far beyond. Similar strong fabric material is sought for parachutes, airbags, sports ware, biodegradable fishing nets, medical sutures, artificial ligaments and much more.  

We are being “instructed” by spiders for the next generation of strong fabrics. Similar practical designs are embedded throughout creation, awaiting our discovery and application.      

 

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