Stretching strands of spider silk for science

The Kid Should See This

Spiders are famous for their strong and elastic webs, but there’s more to learn about the variety of ways that spiders use these strands of protein and the different kinds they produce. In this Science Friday video, Cheryl Hayashi, curator of comparative biology at the American Museum of Natural History, shares her work studying the evolution of spiders and spider silk. Get a tour of the architecture that goes into an orb-weaving spider‘s web and see the creatures Hayashi keeps in her lab. From SciFri:

To study silk and its genetic makeup, Hayashi carefully samples the strands of silk emerging from the “business side” of a black widow or dissects out the silk glands from inside a golden orb weavers abdomen. Additionally, she collects silk samples right from webs, and tests them for their toughness and flexibility.

Hayashi studies a few of the 40,000 known species of spiders, but her research has already illuminated the key genetic markers that produce the unique properties of their silks. But Hayashi has found this information stretches beyond just understanding the nature of spiders’ homes. Her research is helping scientists to develop elastic and strong silks that hopefully could be transformed into durable bulletproof vests, flexible surgical stitches, and even biodegradable fishing gear.

spider silk close up
weaving and orb web
Watch more videos about spiders and their webs, including the incredibly strong (and massive) web of the Darwin’s bark spider, how spiders tune their webs like a guitar, the turret spider’s camouflaged towers, and how this “snail shell spider” uses its web to hoist objects up high.

Bonus: How do spiders use electricity to fly?

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Rion Nakaya