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What if a Radioactive Spider Bites You?

 We all know whathappened to Peter Parker but what would really happen to you if you were bitten bya radioactive spider. Let's get technical. (suspenseful instrumental music) The origin of Spider-Man starts all the way back in 1962 in thepanels of Amazing Fantasy 15 and in those panelsscientists are demonstrating to Peter Parker and hisclass their amazing control over so called radioactive rays. The scientists throw theswitch on their machine but at the exact sametime, an unfortunate spider dangles down from the ceiling and absorbs a fantasticamount of radiation. The spider then totally stressed out and in its death throes,then Peter who then more or less immediatelygains superpowers. The origin story of spiderman has changed over the years but what would happen to you if you were in this same original situation?

First, those 50 year old panelsgot something exactly right. Spiders do not want to bite us. Whether it's our evolution or our culture, we have a habit of blaming spiders, we think that they bite us all the time. Any unexplained bump or rashhas to be a spider's fault. We just assume. But from spider statistics and behavior, we can say definitively, it'salmost never a spider bite no matter what you think it is. For example, it's always fun to joke that everything includingspiders in Australia want to kill you right? Oh g'day, got bit by a spider. But just guess how many peoplehave died from spider bites like that from the veryvenomous funnel web spider in the last, let's makeit interesting, 40 years, just guess for a second, I can tell you.

It's one. Contrast this tiny number with the number of people in the US alone eachyear that are bitten by dogs, and suddenly spidersdon't seem quite as nasty. Come here, come here you little spider. Come here, eh, get over here. Come here little spider. This isn't to say thatspiders don't bite people, they definitely do. It's just that we seem to thinkbecause of our spider bias that spider bites are much more common and much more dangerousthan they actually are. For example, most people are afraid of the brown recluse and Black Widow.

No the more alive Black Widow. There we go. However, mostly thanks tothe development of antivenom, there have been almostzero deaths combined between these two spidersin the last few decades. In the United States,there hasn't been a death by Black Widow since 1983 ifyou don't include endgame. Not only are potentiallydangerous spiders rarely deadly, we are terrible andidentifying spider bites in the first place. For example, in a resentstudy in Southern California which does have black widow spiders, out of 200 people who came in saying they definitely got bit by a spider, less than 4% of themactually got bit by a spider. And this is consistentacross the literature.

The vast majority of the timewe mistakenly blame spiders, it's hard to even get statistics like this because of misreportingand misremembering. Our inherent spider bias, it's fine. It's really fine. They're they're mostly fine. There you go. Adding to all of this, yes,most spiders are venomous, but almost none of them canphysically bite into us, even if they wanted to. We have identified around 40,000 species of spider worldwide. Out of all these species how many of them do you think can both bite us, and have venom that is dangerous to us? Well, maybe you can sense a theme here, but it's literally like 12. 12! Spider biters.

The fact is most spiders on Earth do not have venom that is dangerous to us. And most spiders on Earthdo not have the chelicerae or pointing fangy mouth bits that are capable to deliverthat venom into our bodies. The Daddy Long Legs isprobably the biggest victim of this kind of misconception. They aren't venomous inthe way they would harm us. They do not have fangs thatare big enough to make it into our skin andthey're not even spiders, and yet we treat them likethey're secretly super deadly. We need to get over our spider bias. Now go! Go hang on the bedroomceilings and wait to jump on their faces when they're sleeping. It's fine, they're not even spiders. Spider-Man's comic origins got it right. Spiders really do only biteus in extreme situations. So let's just say that against all odds a radioactive spider does bite you.

What happens next? In the original comicpanels the infamous spider becomes radioactive when it accidentally finds itself in the firingline of radioactive rays. Studies do show thatinsects and arachnids can handle a lot more radiation than you or I could before dying. Somewhere between 30 and 1500 grays which is an increase of 10 to 500 times over what we can handle. So maybe a spider could absorb a fantastic amount of radiation. The question no one ever askedof this scenario, though, is how does this spideractually become radioactive? Now I know the scientistin the original comic said radioactive rays. But what if I was justfancy 60s comic speak for a beam of neutrons and I suggest this because neutron bombardment is the only common wayfor otherwise normal stuff to become radioactive stuff. It's called neutron activation. Very basically, neutron activation is the act of shoving neutrons into an otherwise stable atomic nucleus.

This makes the nucleusbigger and unstable. It wants to return to stability. So in order to do soit throws off particles and radiation to get backdown to its unexcited state. It's kind of like theguy that you drive behind on the highway who triedto stuff too much stuff in his trunk didn'tsecure all of it properly instead of just taking like twoseconds to secure all of it. Now he's putting yourlife in danger cause parts of it are falling down onto the highway and maybe breaking your windshield, and you don't wanna stopand pull over and call AAA, and you're late to the dentist already. Sorry, all normal material can be neutron activated,even spider material. You can in theory makea spider radioactive through neutron activation.

However, it's not exposureto the spider itself that changes Peter's nerd bod. It is exposure to the spiders venom. And so the maximum dose ofradiation you could receive, or Peter, depends onexactly how much venom a spider can inject into you. Take the Black Widow again,it has dangerous venom, but not very much. The average bite from a Black Widow only imparts two hundredsof a single milligram worth venom into its victim. Just a few sand grains worth of mass. So now let's get technical. Let's say our spider has ablack widow's amount of venom and after it is irradiated,that venom is somehow through maybe neutron activation, as radioactive issomething like plutonium, this is ridiculous as an assumption, but let's say it happens anyway because this amount is so small, it has to be really radioactive or else nothing's going to happen. Now the spider bites youand you have 20 micrograms of radioactive venom coursingthrough your bloodstream emitting alpha particles that is smashing into cellular structuresinside of your cells and punching holes in your DNA. If the venom stayed in yourbloodstream after a week you would have absorbedthe same full body dose that you'd want to absorb over20 years in just one week.

And after a month, youstart to notice some changes in your blood cell countbecause now you have non-fatal but still totally really bad radiation sickness, yay. The reality is if a trulyradioactive spider bit you it either wouldn't be radioactive enough to do anything to your body or it would be so radioactivethat just a tiny amount of its venom would starttaking a bone saw to your DNA. Oh yeah. And broken DNA doesn'tgive you superpowers. It gives you cancer. This is why laterinterpretations of Spider-Man's origin story leaned into agenetically engineered spider with genetically engineering venom. And I know I may have justnot your hopes and dreams of being Spider-Man off of a tall bridge and you tried to save itwith a web but you couldn't so maybe let's take this questionin a different direction.

What if you were bitten by the most radioactive spider in the world. If a radioactive spider hadthe most radioactive venom it would become literally themost toxic animal on Earth. When we say something is radioactive, like this ominous hunk of metal here, what do we actually mean? Well, you've probablyheard of half life, right? It's the amount of timeit takes for half of a radioactive material to decay away. And if we know this amount of time and how many atoms arein this hunk of metal, we can calculate how manyof those nuclear decay events happen every second, and the more that happened per second the more radioactivesomething is, makes sense. For example, let's saythat this hunk of metal is actually radium-226, an isotope radium. It would make this metal one of the most radioactive substances on Earth.

If we had a kilogram ofradium-226 right here it would be throwing out36 trillion particles every single second, and because these particlescarry ionizing energy, it is very dangerous tostand right next to it. but it's not the most dangerous. This is just a fewmilligrams of polonium-210. It was discovered innamed after Poland in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie. It was the first element to be discovered by its extreme radioactivity alone. Here I have just a few milligrams of it, just a snowflake's worth of mass and it still literally glows blue in air because the particles it'sthrowing off as a decays are ionizing the air around it. Polonium-210 isn't themost radioactive substance that we know of, but itmight be one of the scariest because the particles it's throwing off carry very high energies. Those particles don't travelvery far in air though, so you can stand aboutthis far away from it and you'd be fine. But if this got into your body, you'd now be in contactwith one of the most toxic substances on Earth. So let's put it in our spider's venom.

The most radioactive spider on Earth is about to bite us during our field trip and inject us with a Black Widow's worth of polonium-210 in liquid form. Wait for, math first, you know that. Spider-Man. We know the radioactivity of polonium-210. We know how much mass is goingto be in your bloodstream from the bite, and we know how much energy each one of those decaying particles will have and impart to your body. We are going to considerwhat this does to you over the course of a day ifyou have spider man's mass. If you were bit by themost radioactive spider after just a day you would absorb an entire body dose of three grays. You would feel nauseous, confused, you would start throwing up and, and then you, you lose all your hair. God.

A week after being bitten by the spider you would have absorbeda total of 23 grays, you're going into shock, you'rein and out of consciousness, your organs are failing. For context, the 100% lethal dose even with medical treatmentstarts at eight grays. You are not waking upwith nerd abs after this. If our spider's venom was asradioactive as polonium-210, the amount of venom he wouldneed to inject into you to do something to your body in the form of definitely killing you wouldbe just a single microgram, less than a third the massof a single grain of sand. Polonium-210 is soradioactive that it doesn't really have any uses outsideof just being radioactive as a source of radiationfor heating up space probes in space with radioactivityand being used as a, as a very potent poison. I guess though, it wouldn'tput the venom in venom.

So what would really happen to you if you were bitten bya radioactive spider? Well, the comics got a lot right. You can in theory makingspider radioactive. Spiders only bite peoplein extreme situations. And if a radioactive spider bit you, it could in theory dosomething to your body, however, that something couldeither be almost nothing, or so much that insteadof wall climbing powers and shooting webs out and stuff, you have the powers ofnausea and organ failure. Honestly, the most unbelievable part of Spider-Man's origin story isn't that radioactivity didsomething to Peter Parker, it's that a spider jumped to his hand and bit him in the first place. Because Science. To me, my spiders, all of you, yes. To their basements we go tolie and wait in the dark. (upbeat electronic music) Neutron activation canbe a serious concern, especially if you're working around things that emit radiation and emit neutrons, it can make things likeyour workspace radioactive.

I got this at a national laser lab, because what they dothere can actually emit neutrons into the surrounding environment and activate material sothey build most of the lab out of concrete and not steel, because steel can becomeactivated by these neutrons and then it can become radioactive and therefore workplace hazard and I have it on this mug because it's probably not radioactive. Thank you so much for watching Dakota.

If you want more of meand Because Science, you can follow us on thesocial media handles here and hey, you can suggestideas for future episodes. Sometimes I use them but often I do not and if you wanna check outany of our other series that we're doing, like theScience of Mortal Combat, or Because Space, please go back to theBecause Science channel and check those out too. (upbeat jingle) 


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