Seeing Spiderman swing through New York City tingles the spine and exercises the brain. His ease in making and manipulating gossamer filaments for aerial stunts is truly breathtaking and awe inspiring. If only I had these powers, so one thinks. Which, for materials biologists with decades of experience analysing the stuff, is humbling, to say the least, as totally unforeseen and novel capabilities and capacities emerge. As Spiderman squirts, swipes and swings he suspends both himself and belief in a world where manly strands and strings of gossamer silk are used elegantly both in defence and attack. Let us forget about the ability to sustain body blows that would kill the normal spider, which is quite fragile and, once punctured, loses its mobility as the universal consequence of leakage in a hydraulic system. Whether spiders have a faster reaction time than humans remains to be tested but is most certainly an interesting proposition. Seeing homo arachnoides tumble and swing suggests a good capacity for high g-forces (comparable to that of astronauts and Formula One drivers). Indeed, spiders have such capacity and will build webs in forces up to 14g – but then they are much smaller than our hero, and body size does matter in this department. This brief overview of his fabulous capabilities brings us to the silks, which are Spiderman's signature feature, in both name and spirit.
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Fritz Vollrath; Spiderman silks – science and fiction. Biochem (Lond) 1 December 2015; 37 (6): 6–9. doi: https://doi.org/10.1042/BIO03706006
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