Orb-weaver spider silk – which is one of the toughest materials found in nature – could be made up to 3.5 times stronger using a new technique.
A research team from the University of Trento in Italy sprayed 15 of the spiders with carbon nanotube and graphene solutions.
It caused some of the spiders to spin silk up to 3.5 times stronger than the web typically spun by the species.
The team of researchers hope the discovery could be used to create a large-scale hybrid silk production process.
The resulting material could be used to create a giant stretchable net to catch falling aircraft, the team says.
Next, they plan to try out a similar technique on silkworms.
But the spider experiment did not go completely to plan. Some of the spiders spun poor quality silk while four of the creatures died.
Team leader Nicola Pugno believes the spiders mop up materials in their environment and incorporate them into the silk as they spin, which is why the technique worked.
The only natural material that is stronger than orb spider silk is the material that limpet teeth are made out of.