Spider silk is a material that has huge potential for medical and military uses, but scientists have been unable to find a way to mass-produce the silk in a cost effective way. Michigan-based Kraig Biocraft Laboratories have found a way to do just that with genetically-engineered silmworms. The company recently announce that they found a way to double the production rate of Monster Silk, one of their commercial products.
Spider silk is both stronger and lighter than other fabrics, so it would ideally be used for body armor and medical sutures. In fact, the US military is currently experimenting with underwear made of silk to protect soldiers from explosions. Silk doesn't melt into the skin like other materials when exposed to heat and it is able to resist the penetration of fine particles like sand and dirt, helping to keep wounds clean.
"Our production system is the only commercially viable technology for producing spider silk," said Kim Thompson, founder and CEO of Kraig, adding that genetically engineered silkworms are "the only way to go."
Kraig produces spider silk by inserting specific spider genes into silkworm chromosomes. The worms, which are actually moths, produce threads that are almost identical to spider silk. By changing the DNA sequence, researchers can vary factors like flexibility, strength and toughness.
In the long run, Kraig hopes to use their spider silk for medical and military applications. In the short term, they plan to use their product for clothing, such as dress shirts and ties.
"No one material can ever satisfy all textile needs," Thompson said. "We're hoping to add one more arrow to the quiver, and we think it's a multi-billion dollar arrow."