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'Real-life Spiderwoman' Captures Students with Facts at AAAS Public Science Day
"I guess you usually see spiders on Halloween, but Happy Valentines Day!" exclaimed Greta Binford as she showed a picture of a spider surrounded by a big, pink heart.
Binford, also known as the 'real-life spiderwoman' for her work on spider venom, mesmerized more than 300 local students and teachers during AAAS Public Science Day. The 14 February event was sponsored by local colleges to bring students face to face with scientists here at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
At Lewis and Clark College, Binford studies the venom of the brown recluse spider - an eight-legged, six-eyed arachnid whose toxin kills skin cells. In her lab, she extracts the venom by putting spiders to sleep with carbon dioxide and running 12 volts of electricity through their bodies. This makes them release the toxin, and a little vomit. "But it doesn't hurt them," she assured the students. "It's kind of like dentistry."
Binford, a biologist who served as a consultant on the movie Spiderman, said that spiders are often thought to be aggressive. But in reality, she said, they are quite shy.
Some students jumped when Binford told them that some spiders eat vertebrates. "But don't worry," she said, "even though you do have vertebrae, they will not eat you." Some students remained wary.
Binford wowed the students with quirky, creative slides and fun facts that also captured the adults' interest. She said scientists had jokingly proposed naming a spider after Arnold Schwarzenegger. The spider, she said, was found capturing its prey by propelling itself through the air as if by a slingshot.
Bindford has traveled around the world sticking her "head into holes and looking for the most venomous [spiders]." One slide showed images from a recent trip to Peru where Marjorie Weber, a student, is shown holding an amblypygid - a non-spider arachnid that is as big as her hand and looks like a skinny lobster.
In addition to "making great pets," Binford said that spiders are being used to develop new medicines. She added that some spiders develop camouflage by holding onto sand or dust for up to three years.
14 February 2008