Spider silk is one of the strongest materials in the world, and scientists have struggled to learn how to produce it industrially for decade. Unlocking the secret to spinning silk en masse could change the clothing industry for good, as well as provide new tools to be used in medicine and at war. Now, Bolt Threads, a Bay Area based startup, thinks they may have found the trick by genetically engineering yeast to produce a material that is identical to spider silk.
Bolt is currently producing the fake silk at its Emeryville labs, where fermented yeast spits out the silk into a mixture of sugar, water and salt, which is then strained out using a centrifuge. But soon, the Michigan Biotechnology Institute will begin silk production on a larger scale, so that the yarn manufacturers Unifi, can begin spinning it into textiles which will initially include sportswear and bras.
Looking at the bigger picture, the development of large scale spider silk production could totally upend the clothing market as we know it. Spider silk has many other applications as well, including stitching wounds or use as artificial tendons. The military is also interested in using the super strong material for protective garments. Bolt believes it will have its first products available by next year. Its products will most likely be expensive at first (price TBD), but in time, there’s no reason spider silk shouldn’t make petroleum-based clothing like Lycra a thing of the past.