Mutant super-spiders weave webs stronger than bulletproof material

A team of Italian scientists turns ordinary spiders into super-spiders that can produce a web with fibers stronger than Kevlar. Hopefully the finding will also lead to a better Spider-Man movie.

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
2 min read

An experiment in Italy yielded spider webs that contain what are believed to be the strongest fibers in the world. For those afraid of spiders, we apologize in advance for the dreams you're going to have tonight. Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/Getty Images

Science stories like these are always a little concerning. They may have benefits that can bring mankind to new levels of scientific understanding. They may be able to produce finer goods with important applications. However, they are also the starting plot point of every B-grade horror movie about a giant animal attacking a major metropolitan city.

Spiders are known for making some of the strongest fibers in the world, but scientists at the University of Trento in Trento, Italy, found a way to make the critters produce webs that are even stronger than they already are, according to MIT Technology Review. How'd the researchers do it? By spraying the spiders with carbon nanotubes and graphene flakes to turn them into super-spiders.

Emiliano Lepore, a postdoctoral fellow who works in the university's department of mechanical and structural engineering, led the experiment. The team gathered 15 Pholcidae spiders, also known as cellar spiders or daddy longlegs, and sprayed them with water infused with the carbon nanotubes and graphene flakes. They compared the silk webs produced following the spritz with the control samples taken before the spiders were sprayed and measured their tensile strength with "a device that can measure the load on a fiber," according to MIT Technology Review.

The fibers infused with the special water measured well above the control webs. In fact, they measured above synthetic fibers such as Kevlar, making them the strongest fiber known, according to MIT's report.

The experiment could lead to some interesting discoveries about spiders, as well as new applications for spider silk, which is already known to be extraordinarily strong. The research hasn't figured out how the carbon nanotubes and graphene flakes made their way into the silk that produced the super-strong fibers in the webs. Lepore's team believes the spiders ingested the water containing the special materials, but they haven't been able to prove this theory using spectroscopic equipment.

The study could also be another step toward achieving a method of harvesting spider silk to create stronger materials in fields such as medicine, manufacturing and even public safety. Back in 2012, scientists working for the Forensic Genomics Consortium in the Netherlands produced a synthetic human skin that could stop bullets. The skin was made from the milk of genetically engineered goats and a protein found in spider silk.

Zoologist Ingi Agnarsson, who then worked with the University of Puerto Rico, discovered a new species of spider in 2010 called Caerostris darwini, also known as Darwin's bark spider, that could produce the strongest spider webs and the strongest biological material known to mankind at that time, according to reports.

These possible applications and advancements sound incredible, but personally, I just hope all of this leads to a better Spider-Man movie.