Magazine article National Defense

Spider Silk Fibers Could Strengthen Soldier Garments

Magazine article National Defense

Spider Silk Fibers Could Strengthen Soldier Garments

Article excerpt

* Genetically modified silkworms could be the key to creating lightweight, flexible and strong fabrics for protective garments worn by soldiers, said one company executive.

Kraig Biocraft Laboratories, which is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has taken ordinary silkworms and genetically modified them to produce strong and flexible spider silk, said Jon Rice, the company's chief operations officer.

"The premise is pretty simple--silkworms make silk, right? They've been doing it for thousands of years," he said. If the worms could produce spider silk--which is one of the toughest natural fibers in existence--that could open up a slew of opportunities in the manufacturing of textiles, Rice said.

Despite being "promptly laughed out of every scientific room [and by] every venture capitalist saying, 'This idea could never be,'" researchers at the company teamed up with the University of Notre Dame to create a "recipe" for a spider silk protein, he said.

"We've created this recipe, this package, this instruction manual that takes the recipe for spider silk and introduces it into the silkworm," he said. "The silkworms remember that recipe generation upon generation. So we essentially have a brand new genetic line of silkworm that now produces this high-strength, high elasticity fiber."

Spider silks can come in nearly endless configurations, Rice said. There are hundreds of thousands of species of spiders, each with their own special silk attributes. …

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