|Spider-Man: Spidey science gets a genetic makeover|
By Kate Dalke
Posted: May 24, 2002
In the movie adaptation of the Marvel comic book classic, director Sam Raimi brings the life of Peter Parker to the big screen. Tobey Maguire plays Parker, a shy and studious teenager who suffers an unexpected fate on a school field trip to Columbia University's Science Department. There, scientists have combined synthesized RNA from three species of spider to create 15 genetically modified super-spiders. The new species of spider has superior web-building ability and jumping strength, as well as a special spider-sense to detect danger. But one spider from the exhibit is missing!
This red and blue spider bites Parker on the hand, giving him super-arachnid powers. He has bulging muscles, 20-20 vision and a mean punch. His now-sticky hands allow him to climb walls, and web shooters that extend from his wrists let him swing from the tallest skyscrapers in New York City.
We know it's just a movie, but how realistic is the storyline of a genetically modified spider? Could scientists create designer spiders that inject superpower venom?
The venom of spiders mainly consists of globular proteins. Unless these proteins contained a viral parasite that was carrying all the amazing spider genes, the transfer of genetic material could never happen.
Nonetheless, the idea of a genetically modified spider is more realistic than the original comic book's concept of an irradiated super-spider, according to Coddington. In the comic book, Parker visits an exhibit at the Science Hall on experiments in radioactivity. A spider gets caught in the demonstration and is irradiated, yet manages to bite young Parker before it dies.
"The movie's much more believable," says Coddington. "If you irradiate a spider, it dies."
Besides, he adds, the mutagenic properties of irradiation are carried in an organism's germ line. "And that's at the other end of the spider."
See related GNN article: Super fibers: Spinning spider webs without spiders
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