Many of today’s technologies have their basis in nature and natural processes. Spider silk, for instance, has long been the object of fascination for scientists across the world. Basically a type of protein fiber used by spiders to make webs, the silk has some truly incredible properties, including high tensile strength comparable to that of steel, high extensibility, toughness and so on. Since commercial harvesting of spider silk is not very feasible, researchers are looking for ways to create synthetic varieties that boast the same features as their natural counterpart.
As part of its collaboration with The North Face, Japanese biomaterials company Spiber has produced what is being called “ the world’s first piece of clothing made from artificial protein material”. Known as Moon Parka, this stunning gold-colored coat contains an outer shell created entirely using synthetic spider silk. The initiative, however, is not the first time that companies have tried to create synthetic spider silk for commercial use. Back in 2002, Nexia Biotechnologies came up with a rather strange idea of using bioengineered “spider goat”, whose milk is rich in spider proteins, to create its special BioSteel fiber. Sadly, the company went bankrupt in 2009.
Current technologies include the use of genetically modified microbes to produce synthetic spider silk that in turn contain the protein fibroin. It is this protein that makes naturally-occurring spider silk stronger than steel, as tough as Kevlar and even lighter than carbon fiber. It is extremely elastic and, remains unbroken when stretched to nearly five times its original length. Its high temperature tolerance allows it to retain its strength even at -40 °C (or -40 °F) and up to around 220 °C (approx. 428 °F). Spiders are known for cannibalizing each other, especially when herded together. This makes industrial harvesting of natural spider silk difficult, if not impossible.
Spiber has spent the last eight years developing the technology, necessary for mass-scale production of synthetic spider silk. The result is QMONOS (meaning “spider web” in Japanese). To create this special fiber, the company first extracts the spider silk proteins secreted by genetically-altered microbes. Following this, the protein is purified and turned into a fine powder, which is then fashioned into fibers using narrow syringe-like needles and spun into threads. In addition to being more versatile than conventional petroleum-based synthetic fibers, the material is completely biodegradable and can be produced in an eco-friendly manner. Sue Levin, of Bolt Threads, said:
The textiles industry is the dirtiest industry on the planet. Everything relies on toxic chemistries. This is a clean starting point.
So far, the company has bioengineered 656 variations of spider silk genes into microorganisms, and has created nearly 250 types of thread, each with properties suited for use in the apparel, auto or medical industry. Using the QMONOS fiber, the company has produced its famous Moon Parka, which is similar in design to The North Face’s Antarctica Parka. Speaking about the invention, Suzanne Lee, the author of Fashioning the Future, said:
Not since DuPont first launched Lycra 40 years ago has a textile come along set to revolutionize the fashion industry.
Spiber’s Moon Parka is slated for a commercial release sometime in the middle of 2016. The company has not yet revealed any pricing details.
Via: Popular Science