Shopping? Check out our latest product comparisons

Artificial "Spiber" silk is tougher than Kevlar

By

July 12, 2013

Japanese startup Spiber is working on mass-producing artificial spider silk, an extremely ...

Japanese startup Spiber is working on mass-producing artificial spider silk, an extremely strong, light and stretchable fiber that has so far been very hard to produce on a large scale (Photo: Spiber)

Image Gallery (2 images)

Spider silk is a truly remarkable material: it's tougher than Kevlar, strong as steel, lighter than carbon fiber, and can be stretched 40 percent beyond its original length without breaking. Now, Japanese startup Spiber says it has found a way to produce it synthetically and, over the next two years, will step up mass production to create anything from surgical materials to auto parts and bulletproof vests.

Artificial silk could be used to create artificial blood vessels and ligaments, as well as dissolvable sutures (for centuries, silk was used to dress wounds for its antibacterial properties). In the auto industry it could lead to bumpers that can absorb a very large amount of energy on the impact, improving driver safety.

Spider silk owes its amazing properties to a protein named fibroin. Proteins are the catalyst for most chemical reactions inside a cell and help bind cells together into tissues. They are long chains of about 20 different types of aminoacids, which can combine into a nearly infinite number of configurations.

The complex sequence of aminoacids that make up fibroin is proving tough to recreate in a lab. A "spider farm" wouldn't produce nearly enough silk for industrial use, so companies around the world are turning to genetic engineering instead. Some companies modified goats to produce milk containing spider silk; others used silkworms to the same end; and others yet are using genetically modified bacteria.

Spin me a web

Spiber's approach is the latter. The company's process involves decoding the gene responsible for the production of fibroin in spiders and then bioengineering bacteria with recombinant DNA to produce the protein, which they then spin into their artificial silk.

Spiber says it will manufacture ten tons of silk in 2015 (Photo: Spiber)

While interest in artificial silk is high and competition is tough, Spiber says it has the advantage of speed: apparently, it can engineer a new type of silk in as little as 10 days, and has already created 250 prototypes with characteristics to suit specific applications.

Spyber starts by tweaking the aminoacid sequences and gene arrangements in its computer models to create artificial proteins that try to maximize strength, flexibility and thermal stability in the final product.

Then, the company synthesizes a fibroin-producing gene, modifying it in such a way that it will produce that specific molecule. The company adopts its own system of gene synthesis, which can produce large quantities of DNA for the fibroin gene in only three days.

Microbes are then modified with the fibroin gene to produce the candidate molecule, which is turned into a fine powder and then spun. The bacteria feed on sugar, salt and other micronutrients and can reproduce in just 20 minutes. A single gram of the protein produces about 5.6 miles (9 km) of artificial silk.

The artificial protein derived from fibroin has been named QMONOS, from the Japanese word for spider. The substance can be turned into fiber, film, gel, sponge, powder, and nanofiber form to suit a number of different needs.

Spibers says it is building a trial manufacturing research plant, aiming to produce 100 kg (220 lb) of QMONOS fiber per month by November. The pilot plant will be ready by 2015, by which time the company aims to produce 10 metric tons (22,000 lb) of silk per year.

The video below introduces the attractive features of the silk and some of its possible applications.

Source: Spiber via WSJ

About the Author
Dario Borghino Dario studied software engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin. When he isn't writing for Gizmag he is usually traveling the world on a whim, working on an AI-guided automated trading system, or chasing his dream to become the next European thumbwrestling champion.   All articles by Dario Borghino
Tags
7 Comments

How does it stand up to UV and hard vacuum?

Slowburn
13th July, 2013 @ 04:31 am PDT

I got my Spider-Man suit ready!!

Everdeep Naga
13th July, 2013 @ 07:51 am PDT

How does this compare to materials stronger than Kevlar, e.g. Zylon, Dyneema and M5 ?

Charles F. Radley
14th July, 2013 @ 07:06 am PDT

Might be interesting material for the inner layers of a space suit.

Seth Miesters
15th July, 2013 @ 11:28 am PDT

It would be a good alternative to airbags in cars…

Dennis Siple
15th July, 2013 @ 11:36 am PDT

Is it sun, moisture and mold resistant enough to produce sails in woven fiber and film?

ezeflyer
15th July, 2013 @ 12:04 pm PDT

I hope they are not over leveraged and that they survive the Japanese Bond crash.

Joseph Mertens
15th July, 2013 @ 04:23 pm PDT
Post a Comment

Login with your gizmag account:

Or Login with Facebook:


Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our 28,266 articles