These super-strength spiders’ webs are so strong they can hold humans

Spiders’ webs – they’re eerie enough, with their dewy, spindly aesthetic. Now imagine being entangled in one, unable to swat your way out of it due to its unremitting strength.

This might just become a reality, according to researchers at the University of Trento, Italy, who have discovered a way for spiders to emit super-strong silk – so strong, in fact, that it wields the capacity to hold humans.

The team of scientists, led by Nicola Pugno, have created a composite material comprised of spiders’ silk, and graphene and carbon nanotubes. If this sounds like an in-vitro procedure, it’s not: spiders imbibed water containing the nanotubes, in turn producing the composite themselves.

Evolution has bestowed upon spiders – arachnophobes look away now – plenty of hardness in their jaws, mandibles, and teeth. Pugno’s team set out to see whether spider silk could be manipulated to take on a similarly resilient quality, and the results were promising (or wholly unnerving, depending on your spider stance).

“We already know there are biominerals present in in the protein matrices and hard tissues of insects,” said Pugno, “[…] our study looked at whether spider silk’s properties could be ‘enhanced’ by artificially incorporating various different nanomaterials into the silk’s biological protein structures.”

That it did, albeit on a small scale, but the implications could be enormously far-reaching. The material has proved to be one of the strongest in the world, with the team comparing it to carbon fibres and the biological devices that help limpets hug to rocks. Spiders could one day be forced to ingest the nanotube solution, in turn churning out reams of the fortified silk.

What’s more, the practice needn’t be confined to spiders, says Pugno. The reinforcement of biological structural materials could, he suggested, be levied onto other species, of both animals and plants, “leading to a new class of ‘bionicomposites’ for innovative applications”.

In the meantime, arachnids are the order of the day for bionicomposites. Skydiving with a spider-silk parachute, anyone?

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