Spider silk technologies, which could see the super-strong material being produced commercially, will give people the possibility of being like comic book hero Spider-Man as it will be strong enough to stop a train.
However unlike the superhero, altering your DNA to produce a superstrong web will not be necessary.
Scientists at Utah State University have been working on the synthetic silk to try and create the strong fibres, and their work shows that they could be as strong as the webs created by Spider-Man.
Randy Lewis, a professor of biology and biological engineering at Utah State University told Chemical and Engineering News that the spider silk could have he ability to stop a train as in the Spider-Man 2 movie.
“We calculated roughly how thick the fibers were, how many of them he had attached to the walls, how much the locomotive and people weighed, and how fast it appeared to be going.” He added: “Spider-Man would have been able to stop that train.”
The silk, which is stronger than Kevlar and more elastic than nylon, is being developed by Lewis and other scientists at the University. The team are looking at how they can synthetically develop the silks for mass production.
One of the most useful applications for the technology could be for use in bullet proof jackets. The strength of the silk, which is a protein, may help to produce jackets that will further improve the lives of those wearing them.
The university says its work could also result in spider silk proteins being able to form durable and long-wearing artificial ligaments for people who have injured their knees or shoulders.
It says the secret to producing large quantities of spider silk is to use ‘factories’ designed to manufacture spider silk proteins that are easily scaleable and efficient. In total, six different kinds of silk are produced by orb-web weaving spiders. The fibres, which have different mechanical properties, are so effective that they have hardly evolved in millions of years.
The scientists say recent developments could now see the technology becoming useable for commercial production. In 2012 the university created a spin-off company called Araknitek to help develop the technologies.
It has been working with goats that produce milk containing an extra protein that can be spun into spider silk thread. However they’re not the only ones to be working with the silk. German company AMSilk has started to sell spider silk protein to producers of shampoos and cosmetics.
Spider image courtesy of Surftideuk via Flickr under creative commons licence.