Spiders sprayed with graphene make super-strong silk


Italian scientists sprayed spiders with water that contained a mixture of graphene flakes and carbon nanotubes -- and the spiders began producing silk that was, by some measures, six times stronger than before.

Very cool! And totally freaky. But by what mechanism did this transformation occur? It's unclear, as the New Scientist writes:
The team isn't sure how the graphene and carbon nanotubes end up in the silk. One possibility is that the carbon coats the outside of the strands, but Pugno thinks that would not be enough to account for the increase in strength. Instead, he believes the spiders mop up materials in their environment and incorporate them into the silk as they spin. This comes at a cost, however – four of the spiders died soon after being sprayed.

At this early stage it's not clear how such a material will be used, but one possibility is a giant net capable of catching falling aircraft, suggests Pugno. The team also plans to investigate other ways of producing bionic materials, such as dosing silkworms with artificial substances. "This concept could become a way to obtain materials with superior characteristics," he says.

(That CC-licensed photo of the Pholcidae spider courtesy alvaroreguly's Flickr stream!)

Notable Replies

  1. I'm not sure that this is a trick we want to be teaching spiders.....

  2. That's why the spider farm will be situated so close to the nuclear power plant.

  3. While I suspect that the silk produced is very spiffy, this research seems to have a couple of disconcerting implications.

    The threat of nano-augmented spiders is the obvious one.

    Less obvious; but probably more serious, is the suggestion that these novel carbon structures(which are at least modestly persistent) are quite capable of penetrating biological barrier membranes. When this involves soaking into a spider, no big deal. When it involves crossing your blood/brain barrier and doing who-knows-what to the development of your synapses? Maybe super powers; probably not. That's the trouble with cool nano materials: it's hard to predict their properties and effects by comparison with bulk forms of the same element.

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