This $314 Tie Is A Big Step Forward For Biotech
Made from lab-engineered proteins, the fiber is softer then silk and stronger than steel
After five years of research, the Bay Area biotech company Bolt Threads has drown back the curtain on its advancements in commercially-viable production of synthetic spider silk by revealing its first product—a necktie made entirely out of lab-grown proteins.
Spider silk is considered the Holly Grail of textiles. It is not only naturally lightweight, breathable, stretchy and antimicrobial, but also soft as silk, durable as steel and environmentally conscious. Unsurprisingly, many have tried to come up with a mass production solution for natural spider silk, but the animals have proven uncooperative time and time again. One reason is that unlike silk worms which are easy to raise in captivity, spiders tend to eat each other when placed in the same container. The only existing piece of cloth made from natural spider silk to date is displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and took over 1 million spiders to produce.
Bolt Threads wants to revolutionize this process by using lab-produced fibers that are made out of sugar, water, salts and yeast, eliminating the actual spiders form the equation. The genetically engineered yeasts produce the silk protein during a fermentation process, comparable to the one used in beer-making. Then, the liquid silk is turned into fiber through wet-spinning, same technique used in making acrylic and rayon fibers.
Mass production of synthetic spider silk may revolutionize the industry by making the garments more durable and sustainable. Unlike petroleum-derived fibers such as polyesters, currently used in more than 60 percent of textiles, the only input necessary to make Bolt Threads’ fibers are plants which can be grown, harvested and replanted. The chemical composition of those fibers, when observed under a microscope, is exactly the same as in naturally occurring animal silks from spiders or silk worms.
Tech-loving fashionistas can purchase one of the 50 “limited edition” synthetic spider silk neckties for $314 by entering a lottery on the company’s website.
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Juliana is co-founder and executive director of Ushahidi, a technology nonprofit established in Africa that develops free and open-source software for information collection, interactive mapping and data curation. Ushahidi builds tools for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories. Through Crowdmap.com, Swiftly.org and accompanying mobile applications, Ushahidi is making crowdsourcing tools more available and useful. Juliana is originally from Kenya and attended the University of Missouri where she received a degree in information technology.