Some of you will find this exciting. I find it disturbing. Materials scientist Nicola Pugno and a research team at Italy's University of Trento have succeeded in getting spiders to produce super-strong silk--by lacing the spiders' drinking water with graphene and carbon nanotubes. According to Phys.org,
Professor Pugno said: "Humans have used silkworm silks widely for thousands of years, but recently research has focussed on spider silk, as it has extremely promising mechanical properties. It is among the best spun polymer fibres in terms of tensile strength, ultimate strain, and especially toughness, even when compared to synthetic fibres such as Kevlar."
"We already know that there are biominerals present in in the protein matrices and hard tissues of insects, which gives them high strength and hardness in their jaws, mandibles and teeth, for example. So 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."
To do this, the team exposed three different spider species to water dispersions containing carbon nanotubes or graphene. After collecting the spiders' silk, the team tested its tensile strength and toughness.
Professor Pugno said: "We found that the strongest silk the spiders spun had a fracture strength up to 5.4 gigapascals (GPa), and a toughness modulus up to 1,570 joules per gram (J/g). Normal spider silk, by comparison, has a fracture strength of around 1.5 GPa and a toughness modulus of around 150 J/g."
"This is the highest fibre toughness discovered to date, and a strength comparable to that of the strongest carbon fibres or limpet teeth. These are still early days, but our results are a proof of concept that paves the way to exploiting the naturally efficient spider spinning process to produce reinforced bionic silk fibres, thus further improving one of the most promising strong materials."
The research was published in the materials science journal 2D Materials.
To me this research sounds like a small-scale Jurassic Park, where we're mucking about with nature in some very unnatural ways. Should we really be feeding carbon freaking nanotubes to living creatures? If you want to see a disgusting photo of what happens when you inject carbon nanotubes into mice, click here.