If you’ve ever looked at a spiderweb, it’s easy to see that spiders have some serious weaving skills. But what’s less obvious is that spider silk, which makes up those webs, is one of the most impressive materials known to man.
It’s five times stronger than steel, more elastic than rubber bands, and softer than wool.
If scientists could harness this material, imagine the things it could be used for: bulletproof clothing; biodegradable water bottles; waterproof bags; and flexible bridge suspension ropes.
Here’s the problem: It’s not easy to get large quantities of the material from actual spiders. So, for years, materials scientists have been studying spider silk to see how it might be copied.
Enter Bolt Threads. The company, founded by three scientists from UCSF and UC Berkeley, discovered a technique that makes mass production of spider silk feasible.
The researchers inserted genes into yeast, which then produces a spider silk-like protein as it ferments. Through a proprietary system, the silk is spun into solid yarn.
The fibers, which are much finer than natural materials like cotton and stronger than nylon, could lend clothes the best qualities of both natural and artificial fibers: they would be soft and light, while durable enough to toss in the wash repeatedly. Imagine a fabric that is tough, durable, lightweight, and petroleum-free.
And not only can they make spider silk, they can customize it. Spider silk could improve the performance of everything from parachutes and climbing ropes to fishing nets and surgical sutures.