The prospect of super-strength military body armour inspired by silk from deadly black widow spiders has moved a step closer after research revealed by a US university.
Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, outside Los Angeles, have identified the genes and DNA sequences for two key proteins used in the "dragline" silk of the tiny but lethal spiders found in the region.
The university said in a news release that the discovery could lead to a variety of new materials for industrial, medical and military uses.
Dragline silk from black widows is regarded as superior to that from other spiders because of its strength and extensibility, which enable the silk to absorb enormous amounts of energy.
The silk’s properties have interested the military, medical and sporting worlds, who are keen to explore the possibility of copying the structure of the silk for lightweight body armour, medical devices and athletic attire.
The genetic discovery was made by UC Riverside professor Cheryl Hayashi and a team of researchers.
There are currently no products on the market based on the dragline silk of spiders.
"There’s nothing quite as good yet as natural dragline silk, but we should get a lot closer now that we have the full genetic recipe," Hayashi said.
Now the genetic blueprint of the silk has been identified it may be possible to synthetically produce the proteins by inserting the genetic sequences into host organisms such as bacteria, plants or animals, she said.
The next challenge would be attempting to spin the proteins into silk fibres that have the same properties as spider spun silk.