The caterpillars that spin commercial silk can make much tougher or more elastic threads, depending on how fast they're forced to spin.
If this research finding is translated into a marketable process for obtaining silk, the fibers could rival those of widely acclaimed but commercially impractical spider silk, says Fritz Vollrath of Oxford University.
The tough silk spun by spiders with the greatest of ease has long inspired human imitators. In a process not yet fully understood, spiders transform dissolved proteins in their silk-making glands directly into thin, rugged filaments of various types. The most tenacious of those strands is dragline silk, which forms the resilient framework of webs. Gram for gram, dragline fiber is five times...