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'
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
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.