Dr. Randolph V. Lewis from the Department of Molecular Biology, University of Wyoming, wrote a great review article about spider silk and its multiple possible uses for biomed industry. From the press release that features an interview he gave to the American Chemical Society:
Could a dose of webicillin beat that stubborn infection? Could a cobweb bandage help soldiers and accident victims with bleeding wounds? Is a wrapping of spider silk the key to preventing the body from rejecting implants?
A review of research on spider silk concludes that scientists have largely overlooked such possible medical applications of this extraordinary natural material, which is stronger than steel. In a report in the current (Sept. 13) issue of the ACS monthly journal Chemical Reviews, Randolph V. Lewis, of the University of Wyoming, describes other scientific research on spider silk during the last 15 years.
“Very few studies of biological testing of spider silk have been done in a rigorous manner,” Lewis states. “There is a large body of folklore concerning the antibiotic, wound-healing, and clot-inducing activity of spider silk. However, much of that lore has not been seriously tested.” The lore dates to the first century A.D. when spider webs were prized as wound dressings. They even found a place in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I shall desire you of more acquaintance, good master cobweb,” the character “Bottom” said. “If I cut my finger, I shall make bold of you.”
Teasers from the review paper:
Orb-web-weaving spiders appear to use the minimum amount of silk necessary in their webs to catch prey. The web has to stop a rapidly flying insect nearly instantly, so that the prey becomes entangled and trapped. To do this, the web must absorb the energy of the insect without breaking and yet not act as a trampoline and bounce the insect away from the web. Gosline et al. reviewed several aspects of this property and concluded that spider silk and the web are nearly optimally designed for each other…
Another unique feature of major ampullate silks is their supercontraction when exposed to water. Depending on the spider species and other factors, these silks will contract to 50% or less of their original length in water. This silk fiber supercontraction is the only known example of supercontraction in water. This supercontraction can occur repeatedly with virtually identical results. Suggestions are that it provides an advantage to the spider by tightening the web whenever the humidity is very high by contraction of the attachment lines and the framework of the web.