Spider webs are commonly known as a frustration when cleaning the house, or as a source of anger when walking into one while hiking or camping. However, thanks to researchers at University of Akron they may now be associated with a more positive, biomedical application: sutures with embeddable drugs for wound healing.
Writing in a recent issue of Langmuir, the researchers describe employing…
the adhesive web building strategy used by modern orb-weaving spiders to produce functional microthreads that are similar in structure (beads-on-a-string (BOAS) morphology) and adhesive properties to the capture-silk threads of the spider web. The diameter and spacing of droplets (beads) are controlled by varying the viscosity, velocity, and surface tension of the coating fluid. Using these functional threads, we also describe the behavior of the BOAS morphology during contact (mimicking the collision of an insect with the web) and during separation (mimicking insect rescue from the web). Our results show that the BOAS structure performs better than a cylindrical structure for adhesion, which may explain why this morphology is so prevalent in spider webs despite the cost of increasing the visibility of the web.
This may have medical applications in wound healing and other uses that require biomaterial adhesives. One of the most interesting potential applications is embedding medications in the adhesive itself that can slowly be released. According to the press release:
Rather than place individual glue drops on a string, the researchers’ novel technique coats threads uniformly with glue. The glue forms waves, which morph into beads that create greater-than-average contact areas and also release energy, or adhesive strength, when peeled. The beads can potentially also create a structure in which medication can be placed and released.
So next time you are about to destroy a spider web, take a minute to reflect on how it may have inspired the next generation of sutures and other biomedical threads… then destroy it.
Paper in Langmuir: Spider Silk Inspired Functional Microthreads
University of Akron press release: UA researchers find the healing properties of a spider’s web