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
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
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.