Scientists and engineers have long envied spiders’ ability to manufacture a material that is simultaneously strong, fine, and tough. This combination of properties makes spider silk an extremely attractive candidate for numerous applications in medicine, defense, and the leisure industry. Research teams worldwide are gradually piecing together the relationship between the silk’s make-up and its unusual — but highly useful — behavior. At the same time, efforts are underway to mass-produce a similarly super-strong fiber that displays both the strength and elasticity of its natural, backyard counterpart.As today’s film-goers and readers of the original Spiderman comic strip will know, spider silk makes an ideal tool for a modern day super-hero. The fine line can be produced at will, holds our hero’s weight as he swings between tall buildings, and then clumps together to trap dastardly villains in a tangled, sticky mess. Highly useful if your daily job description includes rescuing distressed damsels from improbable locations and preventing a thoroughly nasty goblin from wreaking havoc on your home city.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(02)01238-5