Artificial Spider Silk Enters Mass Production for the First Time
Kagan Pittman posted on September 21, 2015 |
Silk spun from yeast-brewed proteins will be used in new clothing line.

A thread of artificial spider silk, ready for weaving into textiles. (Image courtesy Bolt Threads.)

A thread of artificial spider silk, ready for weaving into textiles. (Image courtesy Bolt Threads.)

Recreating spider silk for small scale applications isn’t a new idea, but a California-based company claims to have found a way to mass produce artificial silk, no spiders necessary.

Rather than developing the famously durable silk for things like bulletproof vests, the team at Bolt Threads plans to make a new line of clothing. Uniquely, the company is manufacturing their silk through proteins brewed in yeast.

A fermenting tank containing genetically engineered yeast used to create artificial spider silk. (Image courtesy Bolt Threads.)

A fermenting tank containing genetically engineered yeast used to create artificial spider silk. (Image courtesy Bolt Threads.)

“We originally studied real spiders’ silk to understand the relationship between the spiders’ DNA and the characteristics of the fibers they make,” reads the company website. “Today’s technology allows us to make those proteins without using spiders — which is a big relief to the arachnophobes among us.” 

To recreate the silk, the company first had to genetically engineer their own yeast. After throwing sugar, water and salts into the mix, the silk proteins form during a fermentation process similar to how beer is made.
Different growing conditions for proteins are tested in glass beakers. (Image courtesy Bolt Threads.)

Different growing conditions for proteins are tested in glass beakers. (Image courtesy Bolt Threads.)


The liquid silk protein is then turned into a fiber through a wet-spinning process. “The properties of those fibers can be altered by tinkering with the protein concentration and the temperature, tension and other aspects of the spinning process,” the company states.

Afterward, the yeast is destroyed by heat in a sterile facility.

The company is still in the process of refining their fiber solution, so their engineering and manufacturing processes have yet to be finalized.


Why Artificial Spider Silk?

Today, silk isn’t a very popular fabric in clothing, especially for men. So a key issue with Bolt Threads' game plan is to whom they intend to market their product.

“Our fabrics will combine the best qualities of silk, but will look and feel quite different from traditional silk and also be easier to wash and wear,” the company states. Unless they plan on spearheading the newest fashion trend with unique clothing designs made from their artificial thread, success may not come easily.

However, Bolt Threads' emphasis on a more environmentally friendly way of producing clothing may help them cement a following of like-minded consumers.

“…the textile industry is among the dirtiest industries on the planet,” the company’s website reads. “According to the World Bank, 20 percent of water pollution globally results from textile processing. Many of our staff have been in this industry for a long time and we’re driven to produce fabrics that can meet consumers’ needs while minimizing impacts on the environment.”

As of yet, there are plenty of questions still to be answered concerning the process behind their silk’s manufacture, but the company claims a commitment to transparency as their company grows.

With plans to make their clothing line available for commercial release sometime in 2016, more information might be just around the corner.

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