Will spider’s silk reinvent the fashion industry?
When it comes to material versatility, spider silk is in a league of its own. These arachnids use their silk to trap prey, navigate through their environment, and store food that they are saving for later. Among all the other animals that make their own materials, spiders have to be the most creative. We don't blame them for using their silk for everything, because it is truly a magnificent material.
There is actually no standard spider silk, as they can produce different types of silk depending on what they are trying to accomplish. A spider can extrude up to 7 types of silk, each coming from a different gland. Just to name a few, the flagelliform gland helps with building webs resistant to impacts while aciniform produces material that allows spiders to secure and wrap their prey for later consumption.
So, if it's such an amazing material, why can’t we harvest it in spider farms? We asked the same question in the previous episode on how mussels inspired underwater glue, but the answer is much more disturbing this time. Spider farms are generally not a good idea, because most spider species prefer solitary lives. When living in close proximity, they are known to result in cannibalism.
To take advantage of this amazing material, without actually depending on spiders themselves, Spintex Engineering developed a new synthetic textile. Spider silk has a unique amino acid sequence in its proteins, utilizing glycine and alanine blocks heavily. When the liquid proteins come into contact with a lower pH gradient and get pulled from the silk glands, they solidify and turn into a material that is stronger than steel.
By developing a similar sheer sensitive gel and a biomimetic spinning system, Spintex Engineering created an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, and non-toxic manufacturing process for a new type of silk. This might not seem like a big deal at first, but compared to traditional silk, this method uses a fraction of the energy needed to produce the same amount of textiles. The new silk Spintex Engineering developed is also biodegradable and doesn't require toxic materials to manufacture.
The fast fashion industry is already notorious for the amount of resources and energy it wastes yearly on low-quality products that eventually end up in a landfill. This promising, biodegradable material can reduce the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. It was so promising in fact that it was awarded the Ray of Hope prize in 2021, receiving a $100,000 prize. So the next time you walk through a spider web, remember you might be wearing a similar material in the future anyway.