The news: The newest super-material soon to hit the market is synthetic spider silk, five times as strong as steel and three times stronger than Kevlar, with heat-conducting properties that could potentially make the materials useful for everything from ultra-tough bulletproof vests to computer electronics.
Scientists have been intrigued by spider silk for decades, but it hasn't really been used extensively in industry for one big reason: it's incredibly difficult to farm spiders. Each spindly critter only makes a few milligrams of silk, and they eat each other.
The solution? Scientists have been busy at work developing synthetic spider silk, with a number of products either already on the market or nearing commercialization. Companies such as AMSilk have taken the relevant genes from spiders and inserted them into other organisms like e. coli, while others like Orthox are breaking down the goo that comes out of silkworms and re-spinning it into spider-silk. Here's what's in store:
Image Credit: Chemical & Engineering News
What this could mean: The eventual technology that comes out of these developments could be astonishing. Orthox's Nick Skaer says his company is working to generate a new kind of implant that could relieve the brutal pain of knee injury, and theorizes spider silk could perhaps someday be used to reconnect severed nerves. Since spider silk isn't rejected by the human body, it could even be used to manufacture artificial tendons.
AMSilk is making cosmetics that the company claims are leagues beyond the competition; think shampoo that makes your hair and skin perfectly silky smooth. That's proof of concept of commercially viable spider silk! In the years and decades to come, there could be high-performance textiles, capsules for drug delivery, fibers, suture thread and even possible industrial applications replacing steel.
For more on spider silk, check out Alex Scott's in-depth piece over at C&EN or watch the video below: