A new study reveals that black widows leave traces of DNA behind in their webs, offering insights into their strange genetic secrets.
You may not want to get too close to a black widow’s web, but a group of researchers has risked their well being to carry out a comprehensive genetic study. According to a report from Tech Times, their bravery may have paid off; the study reveals that the spiders’ webs are a treasure trove of genetic information that can tell researchers a great deal about the mysterious arachnids’ life.
The study, which was published on November 25 in the journal PLOS One, scanned the silk of three different black widow webs to get a sense of what type of genetic information was transmitted into the web as it is spun.
The research team was led by Professor Charles Xu from the University of Notre Dame, and was able to successfully extract DNA from both spiders and house crickets in the webs. Genetic material persisted in the webs 88 days after one of the spiders died.
According to Xu, the spider webs are natural deposits for DNA. They trap bugs and other things passing by in the wind, and could offer a detailed view into the genetic makeup of a given environment. Xu thinks the research could inform greater environmental monitoring efforts.
Scanning the DNA in spider webs is a less invasive alternative to “beating,” the other most common method of spider research. Typically, scientists will shake a tree canopy until the spiders living there fall to the ground, where they can be collected for research. The new method can tell us much information about spiders without removing them from their natural habitats.
Among other uses, the new genetic scanning method could prove useful for detecting the early arrival of invasive species. Xu and his research team hope to continue fine tuning their method for screening spider web DNA, offering greater insight into the ecology of forest environments.
A link to the study, published in PLOS One, can be found here.