Silkworms spin spider-strong threads

Japanese silkworms (Bombyx mori)

Japanese silkworms (Bombyx mori) with a spider protein make silk tough enough to be woven and sewn into clothing.

Lilly M/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

vest and scarf, Credit: Kuwanan et al/PLOS ONE 2014Some spiders’ silk is five times as strong as steel. Scientists want to harness that strength for more durable cloth, but artificially making long, strong fibers of the spider silk has been a challenge.

Now scientists have figured out how to insert a spider silk protein into silkworms and get raw silk that is 53 percent tougher than the worms’ native threads. The new threads were durable enough to be woven and sewn into a scarf and a vest (left). The results appear August 27 in PLOS ONE.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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