How far would you go for clean air? If you’re an arachnophobe, perhaps not very. At the Biodesign Summit in New York City last month, students from the University of Pennsylvania proposed a “couture” air mask that uses live spiders and their webs to filter out pollutants. Scientists have noted before the electrostatic properties of the glue that coats spiderwebs. The sticky stuff could even rival industrial sensors in efficiency, they said. “We figured that if spider webs are capable of catching pollutants that are present in the air, we could propose them as a natural and biodegradable alternative to wearable air filters, while at the same time creating a new symbiotic relationship between humans and spiders,” the team told Science Friday.

SPIDER SENSE

Part health aid, part fashion accessory, the “Stabilimentum” features a dome-shaped cartridge that houses the particulate-trapping webs. Empty cartridges can be reloaded by attaching them to a separate habitat, where the spider lives, feeds, and spins. (Contrary to the image above, no creepy crawlies will actually be up in your grill.)

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Practicality seems to be an issue, however. Mónica Butler, Rebecca Van Sciver, and Jiwon Woo say it would likely take about a month for 75 spiders to spin enough webbing for 30 or more cartridges.

Call it a hunch but we’re guessing few would mourn the concept falling off the drawing board.

+ University of Pennsylvania

+ Biodesign Summit