Spider web silk

I have seen on documentaries that SWS is for its size stronger then steel and a rope the thickness of a pencil could tow a cruise liner.

Could it be produced commercially for a realistic price ?
Would it be possible to to produce it in useable quantities in the first place ?
Has it ever been used by humans either for anything IRL ?

What would be the properties of it, if you made say a vest ?

And finally would some spider species produce more useful silk(stronger,more plentiful etc.) ?

This was actually mentioned on the dope when it first came out …

I think it is amazing, and the golden color is interesting. I would love to get up close and personal with it.

Spider silk has been harvested and used for making fabric in the past - not on anything like the commercial scale that silkworm silk has been exploited (probably because it’s not as easy to harvest spider silk). I believe the properties are broadly similar to conventional silk in this application.

Strands of spider silk were supposedly used for the cross-hairs in early telescopic sights, too.

Spider silk is neat stuff. Problem is, spiders are too darn tiny to be a commercially viable source of spider silk; they just don’t make enough.

Enter SCIENCE! A group of scientists (probably with bushy white hair and zany eyebrows) have inserted the silk-manufacturing genes of spiders into goat embryos, creating super-powered SPIDER GOATS! Nah, just kidding, they actually created goats that excrete proteins almost identical to spider-silk proteins in their milk. They can milk the goats, extract the proteins, and use them to extrude silk that is similar, but not yet identical, to actual spider silk. This, of course, can be done on a greater scale than just swiping threads directly from teeny tiny spiders. It’s not ready for prime-time yet, but it sounds promising. Cite.

As for historical uses, spider webs were (and occasionally still are, by some) used to protect cuts and small wounds. Apparently, there’s something on the silk that resists invasion by bacteria and fungi, but not much research has been done in the area.

Isn’t Spectra similar in composition to spider silk?


Also note that, while spider silk was for a long time the strongest and toughest fiber known to man, a few years ago nanotube-based materials caught up to it and passed it. So finding a way to produce commercial quantities of spider silk isn’t as high a priority now as it once was, since the process would have to be more practical than the nanotube-based process.

There are actually two biotech faux-spider silk projects in the works, one using goats as already cited, one using bacteria. The chief reason why you can’t get silk in commercial quantities directly from spiders, is not that spiders are small. After all, silkworms are small too. It’s that spiders are predators, and not too picky about what they prey on as long as it’s in their own size range or smaller. So you can’t raise them en masse, but have to keep each spider in a separate enclosure and feed it on live flies or other prey. Bummer, if you’re trying to make a profit on the end product.

One potential use for the biotech-produced silk will be as a superior substitute for kevlar in such items as bullet-proof vests.

Well, true, I overstated the size thing. It’s really more due to the fact that the silk has to be individually and laboriously harvested from each individual spider. Getting silk from a silkworm is relatively easy: raise the larvae, wait until they construct cocoons, then (I don’t know if this is still the process, but it used to be) inject boiling water through a tiny hole in the cocoon to kill the pupa and unwind the silk from the cocoon, which basically gives you a single very long and useful thread.

Spiders, on the other hand, don’t just make one long easily-unwindable thread. So, to get useful silk from them, you have to first “stun” the spider with carbon dioxide to put it to sleep, place it in a clamp, and give it a mild electrical jolt (correct me if I’m wrong here) to make the spinnerets contract. Even with a special machine like that mentioned in the article linked earlier, the whole process takes a while, and doesn’t produce much silk.

GoatSpider Milk Man
…band name

Good point, so the artificial equivalents will obviously be much more available and much cheaper.

Good news for Elves who traditionally wear clothes made from SWS.

Plus there are a lot of different types of spider silk. Any given spider produces different silk depending on the purpose at leg. An orb weaver uses at least six different types in weaving her web, only the spirals have glue globules. The messy webs around houses aren’t the same sort of silk at all. They are often ‘cribellate’ web which is more woolly and uses the texture and flexibility to entrap the prey. The dense matted web my trapdoor spiders use to line their burrows is a different texture again. So it would depend on the purpose as to which spider species you would use.

They do all this at room temperature, every day. Incredible creatures!