Spider Silk Is Supposed To Have “Healing Properties” – Scientists Debunk the Myth

Spider Web Silk

Way back to historical Rome, spider silk has been used as a treatment to deal with the whole lot from pores and skin lesions to warts. In the previous, docs have coated open wounds in cobwebs or suggested sufferers to put cocoons on contaminated tooth. In trendy instances, nonetheless, the literature incorporates conflicting studies of whether or not or not spider silk has antimicrobial properties. In the journal iScience on October fifth, researchers revisit these outdated experiments and debunk the fable of antibiotic spider silk.

“Spider silk has at all times been admired and nearly has a legendary standing,” says senior creator Trine Bilde, a professor of biology at Aarhus College. “It’s one in all these myths that appears to have develop into ‘established’ by ‘perception’ and never by sturdy empirical assist.”

This picture reveals the extraction of silk from Nephila edulis utilizing a mechanical LEGO equipment. Credit score: Simon Fruergaard

Since the antimicrobial properties of spider silk had been first reported, researchers have proposed methods by which spiders may profit. In the case of social spiders dwelling in massive teams, it’s been thought that antibiotic silk may assist forestall the unfold of an infection between people. These spiders have weakened immune programs from inbreeding, so they’re particularly susceptible to an infection.

Early of their analysis, Bilde and her analysis group grew uncertain of the validity of what they’d learn in the literature. “We had been unable to detect antimicrobial exercise of social spider silk, no matter methodology or microbe, and this made us interested in why different research had been capable of,” she says. “We then began scrutinizing the papers reporting antimicrobial exercise in nice element and have become conscious of methodological shortcomings.”

This picture reveals how ethyl acetate inhibits bacterial progress. Credit score: Simon Fruergaard

The researchers recognized two classes of shortcomings in the already printed literature: (1) danger for bacterial contamination, and (2) insufficient management for the solvent used to extract the spider silk. The group confirmed that earlier studies had been doubtless compromised, for instance by having measured the impact of the solvent used to extract the spider silk as an alternative of the spider silk itself. Solvents like acetone or ethyl acetate can have sturdy antimicrobial results on their very own.

General, Bilde’s group examined silk from seven totally different spider species through the use of improved experimental strategies and located no indicators of antimicrobial exercise. Though this doesn’t rule out antimicrobial exercise for all species of spiders, it brings into doubt all earlier reported accounts.

This picture reveals a Argiope bruennichi spider in the lab. Credit score: Simon Fruergaard

“Relatively than assuming that spider silk is antimicrobial, we should always now assume that it isn’t,” says Bilde. “We will nonetheless take a look at the concept in new species and with new organisms, however with a extra cautious start line.”

Spiders use their silk to guard their eggs, which provide excessive dietary content material to microbes. Bilde proposes that as an alternative of fending off microbial threats with intrinsic antimicrobial exercise, the silk casing round the eggs may perform solely as a bodily barrier.

Reference: “The parable of antibiotic spider silk” by Simon Fruergaard, Marie Braad Lund, Andreas Schramm, Thomas Vosegaard and Trine Bilde, 5 October 2021, iScience.
DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2021.103125

This work was supported by The Novo Nordisk basis.

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