Spider DNA to mimic silk: a sustainable alternative

Water, yeast and spider DNA are all that’s needed, not for Halloween, but to make silk. A Californian biotech start-up has come up with a way to sustainably replicate natural silk fibres that are more sustainable and hardwearing than the spider stuff.

Stella McCartney, Best Made Co., Patagonia and Adidas are already fans of micro-silk; a shift dress designed by McCartney using this new, innovative fabric was even displayed at New York’s MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) at an exhibition called: Is Fashion Modern?

To make micro-silk, the developers first studied silk proteins spun by actual spiders, to see what their key properties were. Next, using bioengineering, they put spider DNA into yeast. Fermentation, using yeast, sugar and water, resulted in large quantities of protein being produced which was then purified to leave behind only the silk protein. Once this was isolated, it was spun into fibres that could be used to make fabric.

The company behind it, Bolt Threads, no longer uses spiders at all (just as well for any arachnophobes) but uses technology to reproduce the proteins needed to make vegan silk. “Initially, we spent a lot of time with spiders under a microscope spinning silk, trying to work out what they were doing”, says CEO, Dan Widmaier. The spiders were let loose in the lab to allow them to make their webs freely. Naturally, other scientists sharing the lab with Bolt Threads were not too happy!

In their original research, Bolt Threads focused on a type of spider called Argiope Bruennichi, which is a spider that commonly spins its own orb web (the wheel shaped webs). Scientists have been trying to mimic spider silk in labs for over 50 years – now they’re starting to go in the right direction. The exciting thing about Bolt Threads’ innovation is that it is both sustainable and scalable – an exciting development in the fabric industry.

Recommended Links:

Ask Smithsonian: How Do Spiders Make Their Webs? | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian Magazine

New Artificial Spider Silk: Stronger Than Steel and 98 Percent Water | Innovation | Smithsonian

Magazine Bolt Threads – Microsilk Silk | Stella McCartney

Bolt Threads: the silicon valley start-up making sustainable fabric from spiders and mushrooms | London Evening Standard | Evening Standard

How this startup went from producing a synthetic spider silk to partnering with fashion icons | Business Insider

Lab-grown spider silk Biofabric Tennis Dress by Adidas x Stella McCartney (dezeen.com)