Spider Webs, Broccoflower and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

The scientific benefits of spider silk, a new genetic cross of cauliflower and broccoli, and the cost of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.


| December/January 1992



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Don't kill that spider! Spider silk is being studied to unravel its secrets.


ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Spider Silk may Save Your Life One Day

Spiders set off weird reactions in people. Some scream, some admire, some grab the nearest newspaper and whack it to dust. Nevertheless they are part of our everyday life, found in barns, along fence posts, and just about anywhere you care to look.

Yet not only are most spiders harmless, they are now part of a scientific revolution. Researchers are presently working to unravel the chemical and mechanical secrets of spider silk—the webby stuff that sticks to your face when you walk through it. According to recent studies, the protein found in spider silk is tougher—pound for pound—than steel wire.

Spiders can change the strength and elasticity of the silk, according to their needs. To give you an idea of the fineness, the diameter of silk can be as thin as 1/500,000 of an inch (human hair is 1/250 inch). Says Dr. Jonathan Coddington of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., "Silk used in the structural support of a web is not the same stuff they wrap their prey in. Likewise, silk found in the center of a web is coated with a sticky glue to catch flies; another silk is used to wrap their eggs."

What does this all mean? Well, given spider silk's resistance to breaking and stretching and its ability to absorb impact, scientists are thinking up potential uses for massive amounts of synthetic silk. They are considering ways to use the man-made silk to replace Kevlar, the synthetic fiber which halts bullets in bullet-proof vests, and also to replace the steel cables which support suspension bridges. So the next time you find yourself holding a murderous shoe over an innocent Daddy Long Legs, drop it—he may save your life one day.

The Broccoflower: Too good to be True?

Introducing a truly confusing vegetable. It has the texture of cauliflower. It smells like cauliflower. In fact, you'd swear it was cauliflower—if it wasn't neon green. The name of the vegetable in question is broccoflower, and it's the result of a genetic cross between broccoli and cauliflower.

Sounds like a gimmick, doesn't it? If you're wondering why anyone would bother to combine two perfectly fine vegetables into one, wait before getting your dander up—the sweet, buttery tasting vegetable contains twice the amount of Vitamin C and folic acid as either broccoli or cauliflower alone. It's also an excellent source of fiber and potassium, according to nutrition educator Dr. James Scala, who claims that eating broccoflower helps prevent cancer and high blood pressure and keeps the digestive system in good form.

kelly nelson
9/9/2012 3:02:53 AM

Oil Spill Eater II was successfully tested by Exxon at their lab in their Florham Park New Jersey lab. OSE II has been used on over 20,000 spills since 1989 globally.






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