Innovation That Matters

Bioengineered spider silk | Photo source Pixabay

Synthetic spider silk makes its way into fashion


A biotech company is transforming the fashion industry by introducing clothing made with bioengineered spider silk

We have already seen clothing made from recycled shopping bags and clothing made from materials grown by bacteria, now a biotech startup has found a way to make clothing from spider silk and its leading the way into the high fashion market. Spider silk is soft, flexible, and strong as steel. But it’s also very difficult to mass produce. Spiders cannot be raised in large quantities, and harvesting the silk is very difficult. Previous attempts to manufacture synthetic spider silk included breeding genetically-modified goats which expressed spider silk proteins in their milk. However, the silk proved too expensive to manufacture commercially. Now, scientists at Bolt Threads have come up with a technique for growing synthetic spider silk using yeast.

Bolt chose to design a fiber similar to Golden Orb dragline silk, the material spiders extrude when they rappel. Scientists inserted the genes for the silk into yeast, and then allowed the yeast to grow in a sugar and water solution. The yeast produces silk protein, which is purified and combined with a solvent before being extruded through a die to create long, thin fibers. So far, Bolt has used the process to make fibers that have been woven into a limited number of hats and ties. The tie is made using a continuous filament yarn, which creates a sleek fabric, while the hat is made by entangling shorter pieces of spider silk with Rambouillet wool, to create a thick yarn which is softer and lighter than 100 percent wool.

The limited edition spider silk hat went on sale in December 2017 and costs around USD 200, which is expensive, yet barely covers the cost of production. However, Bolt CEO Dan Widmeir says that scaling up manufacturing will significantly reduce the costs of the finished products. Bolt recently raised USD 90 million in funding and has announced a collaboration with designer Stella McCartney to produce a one-off dress, currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art, as well sa a partnership with outdoor brand Patagonia. The company has also acquired menswear and outdoor lifestyle brand Best Made Company, to establish a retail channel for marketing and selling future products. Will spider silk turn out to be the thread of the future?




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