Spider Webs May Hold the Answers to Aging

We all get older. We are all constantly aging. Every minute of every day we are getting closer to our deaths. This may sound depressing, but scientists have recently been using spiders to unlock hidden clues to the aging process.  Could it be possible that the keys to staying young may be written in their webs?

Researchers, like Dr. Mylène Anotaux from Nancy University in France, think so (Society for Experimental Biology, 2011). They believe that the spiders lose the ability to make a good web as they age as a result of degeneration of the central nervous system.  As Anotaux says, “Because of the importance of understanding the underlying behavioral mechanisms of aging in humans, investigating simple animal models that assess aging mechanisms is essential” (Society for Experimental Biology, 2011).

Awesome Arachnids

European House Spider
European House Spider (Image source: by permission of Ian Pembroke)

Up until now, not much research has been done using these spiders as model organisms for aging; however, a 2012 study done in France examines the possibility of using such a creature for biomedical research.  Scientists believe that the European House Spider (scientific name Zygiella x-notata) would be ideal as a model organism for many reasons.  Not only does it exhibit this pattern of degenerative web making, but it has a short life span- less than one year.  It also has a very simple nervous system (Society for Experimental Biology, 2011) and is small and “easy to maintain in laboratories” (Anotaux, 2012).  Finally, this spider typically makes geometric webs, so changes in these webs can be easily measured and correlated to neurodegeneration (Anotaux, 2012).

A spider web. The answers to aging might lie in the European House Spider’s web.
A spider web. The answers to aging might lie in the European House Spider’s web.

Female spiders, which live longer than males, continue to make new webs daily all the way through adulthood (Anotaux, 2012).  This means that scientists are able to monitor the web-making progress on a daily basis and track changes over an extended period of time.  These qualities make it an ideal model organism for studying the degenerative effects of aging.  Researchers would be able to test a wide variety of medicines or other treatments to determine their effects on the way these spiders age.  According to Anotaux and her fellow researchers, further studies could be done to examine how changes in telomere length, or other age related changes, are related to web construction (2012).

Neurodegenerative Diseases

Today, millions of people suffer from neurodegenerative diseases, which are associated with age.  These include (but are not limited to) Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Friedreich’s ataxia, Hurlington’s, Parkinson’s and spinal muscular atrophy (NIH, 2013).  Neurons are the electrical wiring system in your body.  They transmit important messages and information using electrical and chemical signals.  Neurons can be equated to the wires in your house.  Neurodegenerative diseases cause the neurons to fire incorrectly or to become damaged and die (Jellinger, 2001).  This is equivalent to the wire of a lamp fraying so that the lamp will no longer give off light.  As these diseases progress, more and more neurons become damaged until the body can no longer function- a complete power outage in your house.  Ultimately, patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases may lose control of muscle function, losing the ability to speak, eat or even breathe.  These conditions can be life-threatening and, sadly, there are no known cures (NIH, 2013).

Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, cause neurons to fire improperly.
Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, cause neurons to fire improperly.

Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in America; over 5 million people are living with the disease (Alzheimer’s Association, 2013).  According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, as many as one million Americans live with Parkinson’s and medication can be very expensive (Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, 2013).  Neurodegenerative diseases are a growing problem in today’s world; as more people are living longer, these diseases are becoming more prevalent.

Now more than ever, research in this area needs to be done.  This is why the study conducted by Anotaux and her fellow researchers is so vital.  If neurodegeneration can be better understood using European House Spiders as model organisms, we will be that much closer to developing new, better, more affordable treatments for these diseases.


The study conducted by Anotaux and the team of researchers shows the amazing possibilities of using the Zygiella x-notata as a model for neurology research.  However, no studies have yet been published on neurodegeneration using these creatures as subjects.  Additionally, this was the only study that I found done on the feasibility of using this organism in this field of research.  Therefore, although the European house spider could hold great promise for future cures or treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, more research should be done.  The answers to aging might be written clearly in their webs.

In Brief

Works Cited

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