Julie Taymor’s out on Broadway, yellow sac spiders are in at auto dealers. Recently, Henry Fountain at the New York Times explained why scientists are having such a hard time replicating spider silk, the stuff behind Spider-Man’s superpowers and Mazda executives’ fears that the small arachnid stowaway could cause its cars to explode.
With the spring-cleaning season nearly here, many of us will soon encounter spider egg sacs, sheet webs, and cobwebs up close. Each of these constructions contains different silks possessing different qualities—any of which researchers would love to copy. In Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating, Leslie Brunetta and Catherine L. Craig take readers into the astonishingly varied world of spider silk use. Along the way, they show how spiders can help nonbiologists understand how evolution really works. Recent research published in Science found that the majority of public high school science teachers fail “to forthrightly explain evolutionary biology.” In any case, many of us attended high school before genomic research explained evolutionary change at the molecular level. Most of us are therefore ill equipped to fully understand many pressing issues, from the rise of antibiotic-resistant pathogens to the eventual effects on ecosystems of climate change. Even our understanding of the social sciences is affected: How can anyone evaluate Francis Fukuyama‘s new treatise without a solid grounding in Darwinian evolution theory?
Glenn Beck thinks Taymor’s “Spider-Man” is brilliant and Charles Darwin was a dunce. Check out Spider Silk and see what you think.