Spider’s Silk, Minus the Crawlies

Bolt Threads' technology was inspired by the spider, but it has broadened into a platform of programmable polymers: a protein material that can be tuned to create a nearly limitless array of properties PHOTO: Researchgate

Bolt Threads’ technology was inspired by the spider, but it has broadened into a platform of programmable polymers: a protein material that can be tuned to create a nearly limitless array of properties PHOTO: Researchgate

Welcome to the age of slow fashion. Fashion that’s got its sense and sensibility focused on sustainability. Slow fashion represents all things “eco”, “ethical” and “green” in one unified movement. It was first coined by Kate Fletcher, from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, when fashion was compared to the Slow Food experience. Carl Honoré, author of “In Praise of Slowness”, says that the ‘slow approach’ intervenes as a revolutionary process in the contemporary world because it encourages taking time to ensure quality production, to give value to the product, and contemplate the connection with the environment. And now meet Bolt Threads. A company that started out to make spider’s silk sans the creepy crawlies. Have they succeeded?

Think of their technology as a way to replicate natural silks and tweak them with engineered changes to add new and useful properties. They’ve combined this fundamental science with a healthy dose of engineering work to develop a scalable manufacturing process for natural proteins. Bolt Threads now deploys this manufacturing solution to deliver Engineered Silk to the world.

Inquisitive textile designers have tried to create material from spider silk for decades. Contrary to popular belief, the ancient Chinese Silk Road trade route was not an international highway for spiders. However, several years ago, 70 people spent four years collecting over a million wild spiders and 80 feet of spider silk. All this work only produced an 11-by-4 foot textile. That’s a little larger than a yoga mat, the most expensive yoga mat in history, which is now on the wall of a natural history museum.

The scientists at Bolt Threads studied the way spiders produce silk then mimicked the process. The scientists bioengineered yeast cells that grow during fermentation – similar to the way beer is made. The yeast cells produce protein. The liquid protein gets squeezed through holes that mimic the spider’s spinneret and drop into a bath of water, salt and sugar. This solidifies the protein into strings of fiber. More.

Read Bolt Threads’ story here.

2 thoughts on “Spider’s Silk, Minus the Crawlies

    • Hi Earthknight – thanks for introducing yourself by following our blog. Looking at your mission we can see where your concern is coming from, but exploring the Bolt Threads site should assuage your worries. The threads are made from an organic fermentation process: “Our yeast produce silk protein in a liquid form during fermentation—very much like the beer-making process. After some processing, the liquid silk protein can be turned into fiber through wet-spinning, which is the same way fibers like acrylic and rayon are made.” It really does sound promising, not to mention cool!

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