Friday, November 21, 2008

Silk in any language

I was shocked today to learn in Science News that honeybees make silk. Perhaps I should have known this all along. Silk is a remarkable fiber. Strong and flexible. There are of course those reliable silkworms; and there are spiders that weave their silken webs. But spiders don’t like being together; in fact, group living can make them cannibalistic. So scientists looking for additional ways to create silk are addressing the honeybees. Those sturdy, smart and industrious bees. Having sequenced the honeybee genome, scientists found four (4) honeybee silk genes.
In all those hours spent in glazed meditation upon the observation hive, I never realized that each larva in its cell was protected by a thin sheet of golden silk. One scientist speculates that it is the silk buildup inside the hive cells that makes things so crowded that the bees will eventually seek a new home. In other words, they swarm because they can no longer squeeze comfortably inside their honeycomb. I have my doubts about this theory because I’ve seen(admired, stood enraptured, been electrified as) bees in fairly new hives swarm.
Still, if a fiber 1 inch in diameter made of dragline (spider) silk is strong enough to pull a 747 down from the sky, imagine with rope made of bee silk could do.

And in case you were wondering: tarantulas produce silk from spigots in their feet. All eight of them.

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