Scientists have been able to create synthetic spider silk for some time now but always in extremely limited quantities. A new startup company in Japan has figured out a way to overcome existing manufacturing methods and commercialize the thread's production at scale as reported by Fortune. The solution was not to try and replicate how a spider creates silk but to develop a whole new spinning technique.
"In the case of spider silk, we can copy the gene sequences responsible for silk and transfer them elsewhere," says Michelle Oyen, professor of Mechanics of Biological Materials at the University of Cambridge in the article. "But we then have to mimic the spider's silk spinneret in order to form the proteins into fibers, and that's tricky and has been one of the limitations to date."
The new company, Spiber Inc., uses synthetic microorganisms to produce "many hundreds of grams of synthetic spider silk protein" and a new spinning technology to create the synthetic thread. Inventor and Spiber's president, Kazuhide Sekiyama, mentions that the breakthrough was to use a new spinning process instead of trying to "copy the spider's little-understood spinning action."
Now that synthetic spider thread can be mass produced, plans are already in the works to use it in creative new ways from "super-light but strong car parts and medical applications." If costs are comparable to existing synthetic fibers, it will likely be used to replace Kevlar in bullet proof vests and any other areas where a lighter stronger alternative would be beneficial.
There are other companies looking to capitalize on the applications for synthetic spider thread. German firm Amsilk and an American company both have plans for commercial production of spider silk. Spiber, however, may be in the best position to profit since a pilot plant is scheduled to open in 2015 with an expected capacity of 10 tons of silk annually.
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