The Next Textile Revolution: Synthetic Spider Thread

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Synthetic spider silk has been predicted to be the next thread to revolutionize the textile industry. With a strength comparable to steel and with the flexibility of rubber companies are in a dead heat to be the first to successfully manufacture synthetic spider silk.

Spider silk itself, is composed of a chain of amino acids, protein, that is released through its silk glands called spinnerets. Each spider has two to eight spinnerets that release different types of silk depending on the needed function, secreting non-sticky silk to travel across long distances or adhesive silk to hunt and capture prey. Organic spider silk has long been a point of intrigue for scientists. The protein based silk is stronger than all human produced alternatives, including kevlon, the product that composes bullet proof vests. Spider silk is five times stronger than steel and has the ability to stretch as much as 30% of its original length.

Efforts to produce organic spider silk have been abandoned because of its inability to be mass produced. Spider farms proving extremely unsustainable because of the spiders carnivorous nature. Instead companies have turned their efforts into creating a synthetic alternative. Start-ups such as California based: Bolt Threads and Japanese stationed company: Spiber are said to be the closest to having pioneered synthetic spider silk. The central challenges in recreating the silk lie in the complex composition of protein molecules and the repetitive sets of DNA sequences. Bolt Threads engineer their own silk through genetically altered water, sugar, and yeast that undergoes a fermentation process, like alcohol. After the fermentation period they employ a wet spinning process to strengthen and stretch the fiber. A process that reflects what it implies: submerging and twining the thread in a series submersion tanks.

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Now that they have mastered the manufacturing of Spider Silk Bolt threads has recently released their first product of knit neckties. While their central competitors, Spiber, has released a jacket called the Moon Parka in partnership with North Face. Both limited released products offer a sampling of what more high performance quality clothing is to come. The American military has sunk its own funds into this biotechnical pursuit for the innovations it could afford in military wear.  Currently, soldier’s uniforms are made from nylon thread, which while durable when under fire the fabric melts instead of burns. Synthetic spider silk being protein based, making it a superior alternative because it is lighter and stronger.

The continued urgency and excitement behind this movement is the versatility and widespread impact of this new thread. It's dual functionality of being incredibly strong and elastic would mean a broad application in products across all industries. From automobile parts to sports gear and medical equipment.. In addition to its usability it has the advantage of being eco-friendly. The synthetic fibers are biodegradable, a much needed product in loo of the 80% of waste in the clothing industry. The silk is a renewable thread that is far more sustainable than oil based threads because of its protein based composition. The building process requires less toxic chemicals than the other oil based threads on the market. While the spider thread is still in a process of development, it has been made abundantly clear that the future of the textile industry lies in synthetic spider silk.

Victoria Mariolle