In a few days, fervent fans will scatter to the nearest theater to catch one of the most anticipated movies of the summer: The Amazing Spider-Man.
An exciting little detail about this franchise reboot is that it stays truer to the original comic books than previous films, with Spider-man (Andrew Garfield) shooting artificial webs from web-shooters (that he makes) rather than shooting organic webs from his wrists.
Might not seem like a big deal, but ask your friendly neighborhood comic book fan or bioengineer and you’ll discover the difference is huge!
Recent PhD in chemical engineering Katie Galloway explains that organic webs spun by nature’s web-slingers average around 2.5 and 4 microns thick (about 30 times thinner than a strand of human hair!). Synthesizing—reproducing in a lab—these amazing spider silks has “long represented the holy grail” of biomimetic engineering, she says. So far, the complicated process of synthesizing spider silks has produced threads that are a chunky 10–60 microns thick.
Still, despite the challenges, research in this area continues. And with it comes great insight. Galloway explains:
As we learn from nature and attempt to repeat the wonders found therein, the intricacy of the solutions is astounding…By learning from nature, not only can we obtain new technologies to benefit mankind, but we can [also] see how God has provided for even the lowliest of creatures by granting them extraordinary traits.
Another extraordinary trait that spiders (and other creatures) share with their fictional counterpart, Mr. Parker, is the ability to crawl walls.
Geckos, for example, “have the amazing ability to adhere to sheer surfaces.” Moreover, they can “control their adhesion and not stay stuck.” (Galloway discusses these sticky creatures in a couple of articles, “How to Get a Grip and Not Get Stuck: A Gecko’s Story” and “Ask the Animals and They Will Teach You.”)
Beetles get in on the wall-scaling fun, too. And all of these creatures have inspired researchers to try to develop synthetic versions of nature’s adhesives.
In fact there’s a growing trend in biomimicry to utilize designs found in nature to build devices better than the ones previously conceived by humans, Jeff Zweerink says. So, how can a no-Designer perspective on life’s origin explain why the greatest scientific minds, utilizing the latest technology, find inspiration from the intricate designs found in nature to improve man-made designs? Zweerink offers a response:
I think it is difficult to answer [such] questions within a strictly naturalistic worldview. However, such questions find ready answers if a divine Being created all life and then fashioned humanity in His image.
There you have it. Spider-Man may exist only on screen and in print, but the intricate design of nature’s own web-slingers and wall crawlers points to the existence of a Designer. Perhaps this apologetics tidbit will stick to viewers thoughts after the screen goes dark.