Silk is a pretty special material that we use to make all sorts of things--from the world’s softest pillows to bulletproofing skin. But you have to ask, how do we actually get it?
If you thought spiders were creepy by themselves, Reddit user Paul_Lazzaro’s job is to milk the webbing out of live black widow spiders. He does this by knocking them out with carbon dioxide, pinning them up to a dissection-table-esque petri dish rig, and using a machine pull each strand of silk out.
Of course, this is not to torture the poor (and extremely poisonous) little thing; this is all in the name of science. Paul_Lazzaro is a graduate student currently studying biology who works with the “silk-associated molecules in the silk and their role in communication”, as well as with spider egg sacs too.
While these spiders don’t "like" the process, they survive and continue to go about their "spidery" business afterwards. The individual spiders can also be "milked" several times though their lifetime. [Update: Milking, of course, isn't the technical term for this: it's "mechanical silking". You learn something new every day.]
Hopefully scientists will discover the chemical makeup of spider silk that allows it to be so flexible, strong, and elastic all at the same time. Then maybe we can start artificially manufacturing it soon.
Updated Feb 4, 2012 to correct attribution. Also, as originally posted, this story stated that Reddit user Paul_Lazzaro is a grad student currently studying entomology. This is not the case: The researcher has a Bachelor's in entomology, and is currently studying biology. Our apologies for the confusion; we regret these errors.
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