Spider silk is a protein fiber spun naturally by spiders. Most silks, in particular, dragline silk, have exceptional mechanical properties – its tensile strength is comparable to that of steel, it is lighter, and can be very ductile making it tougher than Kevlar. These are very attractive prospects for material scientists, however, replicating the complex conditions required to produce fibers that are comparable to spider silk has proven difficult to accomplish. The race is on – from the Americas to Asia companies have deployed different technologies and sciences geared towards achieving commercially viable industrial replication of spider silk.
Spiber Inc, Japan is one of those marked out in this foray. Spiber President Kazuhide Sekiyama, who invented the company’s technology to make artificial spider silk is optimistic after releasing what he calls the world’s first commercial piece of clothing made from the bio-fiber protein. The company was spun out of the Institute for Advanced Biosciences in 2007 by Kazuhide Sekiyama, who was a graduate student there, he and his colleagues have not looked back ever since.
- Scientists at Spiber examine various species of spiders to understand the genetic sequence of silk proteins and have accumulated data on hundreds of types of gene synthesis. The company uses genetically altered micro-organisms to mass produce a silk protein material it calls Qmonos (meaning spider’s web in Japanese).
- The firm inserts designed DNA into bacteria, and grow them using a similar fermentation process to making beer. They then take out proteins from the micro-organisms and refine them into silk thread. Several other companies are also working on similar processes and competition is set to intensify.
- This protein-based fiber technology can also be applied to everything from automobile parts to medical devices to performance outdoor gear, it could revolutionize the production of various industrial products.
Kazuhide Sekiyama and Spiber, look beyond the attractions of spider silk to the potentials offered by proteins at large. He believes that someday, proteins will be widely used as a basic industrial material like metals, glass, and plastics are used today. Protein-based synthetics have another advantage – they are renewable and biodegradable. Other companies also doing notable work in this space include:
Bolt Threads: is an American company based in California. According to their site, they study silk proteins found in nature to determine what gives them their incredible properties and they have developed technology to replicate this amazing process sustain-ably at large scale. knit ties are their first prototype product.
Kraig Biocraft Laboratories: Kraig Biocraft Laboratories, Inc. is also an American company based in Michigan. According to their site, their genetic engineering research has succeeded in developing a practical and cost-effective technology for producing recombinant spider silk based fibers on an industrial scale.
Spiber Technologies: (A Swedish company with similar name) Its technologies are based on successful research on spider silk conducted at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Uppsala, Sweden. The company was founded in 2008.
- Spiber Inc is a textile company founded in 2007 by Kazuhide Sekiyama and two of his friends. It is headquartered in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture.
- Spiber have produced a Parka with The North Face using their artificial spider silk Qmonos. They also have a strategic partnership venture with Kojima Industries Corp., which supplies automotive parts to Toyota.
- Their technology has potential applications across a range of industries – the fashion, medical or space industries, etc