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News Clippings

Sunday 1 September 1996 (Sunday Telegraph)

Spiders spin new lines in fashion
By Catherine Milner

FORGET expensive silks, satins and velvets. The luxury material of the next century could be woven from spiders' webs.

Spiders' silk is neither new nor rare, but American scientists at Cornell University, New York, are creating a more durable version of the fabric, which they believe will become one of the most sought-after commodities in the fashion world.

The biotechnology unit at Cornell has investigated how spiders make their webs and is now trying to artificially create the silk and make it more durable. Spiders' webs, they say, could be used to make clothes, seat belts, parachutes tennis rackets and even food packaging.

"Everything you see made of plastic could be made of spiders' silk," says Lynn Jelinski, head of the unit conducting research at Cornell. "My dream is to take the genes from the spider and inject them into plants to make them create the silk."

The most prolific spiders are the Golden Orbs, who live in tropical rainforests and spin webs as long as 20 feet between trees. Cornell University has been farming the spiders, feeding them a special concentrate based on the kinds of bugs they eat so they produce up to a milligram of the silk each day.

But Craig Walker, the spider keeper at London Zoo, did not like the idea. "I think it's diabolical. You would need thousands of spiders to create one small garment."

Jelinski is confident, however. "Spider silk clothes will have a niche market - all of Hollywood will be wearing it," she said. "It will look like normal silk but will be much stronger and softer. It will also be cooler."

DuPont is already researching applications for the new material, and several smaller companies have already patented new uses for spiders' webs, including using it as a material in suspension bridges.

But Jelinski is not the first to discover the potential of spiders' webs. Napoleon is believed to have had a pair of gloves made from them and the royal family of Madagascar used to wear robes of spiders' silk.

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