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News Clippings

Thursday 16 January 1997 (Daily Telegraph)

'Bullet-proof silk' of the black widow
By Laura Spinney, Science Correspondent

THE bullet-proof vests of the future could be woven from the silk of black widow spiders, according to an American scientist.

Dr Anne Moore, of Scripps College in Claremont, California, tested the silk produced by a species of black widow spider commonly found in the garages of southern California, and found that it was the strongest of any spider to be tested. She said the black widow produced two types of silk with which it constructed its web. They had different physical properties, but were incredibly stretchy, extending by at least a quarter of their unstretched length before breaking.

One type was twice as strong as any spider's silk tested previously, and the other was between three and four times as strong - bringing it into the same area as Kevlar, the material of which bullet-proof vests were made.

Dr Moore's findings are described in today's issue of New Scientist. Black widow spider silk could potentially provide a substitute for Kevlar, she said, if a way could be found of producing it industrially.

Paul Hillyard, of the Natural History Museum, said it had long been known that thickness for thickness, its strength was comparable with steel. But the problem had been putting it to practical use. One possibility was to manufacture it industrially by transferring the silk-producing genes of a spider into bacteria. Industrial vats of bacteria could then be put to mass-producing the silk.

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