Spider’s silk is such an amazing and versatile substance, it’s hard not to get the feeling that Mother Nature intended it for much more than a sticky web in the corner. This seemingly insignificant thread is equal to steel in tensile strength while maintaining the flexibility of rubber. It conducts heat 800 times better than any other organic material, is tougher than Kevlar, and has been used to make everything from violin strings to computer chips. The only problem is, spiders aren’t easy to farm. So until recently, it’s been difficult to harvest enough spider silk to do anything at commercial scale. But what if something else could be taught to produce spider’s silk in mass quantities? Something that loves to reproduce…like bacteria.
AMSilk is a German company that’s figured out a way to produce genuine spider’s silk without the spider. “Researchers genetically modified E. coli, crossing it with European garden cross spider DNA, so the bacteria would create four different varieties of silk in 20 different grades,” explains Dvice.
That’s right, the same scary bacteria that’s been responsible for dozens of food recalls, thousands of cases of food poisoning, and even some fatalities, has been put to work as the manufacturer of the world’s strongest and most desirable substance. And we’re not talking about some experimental fiber that will take decades to make it out of the lab. AMSilk has already sold its fully functional silk biopolymers to shampoo and cosmetic companies, and there’s talk of using it to replace the silicone in breast implants (since many humans have an adverse reaction to silicone.)
Perhaps most interestingly, AMSilk claims that its spider silk biopolymers could be used to make microbeads for skin exfoliation products. Given the fact that plastic microbeads have been identified as a major water pollutant, a more organic replacement could be very valuable.