A Japanese company has created an electric blue dress made of synthetic spider silk. The company, named Spiber, have made the garment to demonstrate the different ways that the incredibly strong yet lightweight material can be used. Their artificial fibre based on spider silk is called Qmonos, from the Japanese word ‘kumonosu’ meaning ‘spider web’.
Gram for gram spider silk is five times stronger than steel and it is more flexible than nylon. If the silk was used to make body armour, it would be at least three times stronger than Kevlar, depending on the spider.
Silk begins in the spinning gland as a random coil of proteins before it is passed through ducts in precise conditions of acidity, water content and chemical concentration.
It is then pushed out of the spider’s body through a spinning wart. The fibre that emerges is water-resistant, partly crystal and partly coiled. The silk has been used in wound dressings, as it has antibacterial properties.
The high-collared cocktail dress, on display at the Roppongi Hills complex in Tokyo, was created to demonstrate the technology behind Qmonos, according to a report by cnet.
Scientists are increasingly interested in the silk because they believe it could be used for everything from parachute cords to artificial blood vessels.
But the territorial nature of spiders makes it very difficult to farm spiders like silkworms. In the absence of prey they will readily resort to cannibalism too. Spiders also only produce minute amounts of silk, spinning only what they need for a web, then consuming any excess it has ‘spun’. In nature, spider silk is spun into threads, but in laboratory conditions the same proteins have been rearranged into spheres, thin films and capsules.
One team of American scientists even tried to make spider silk by genetically modifying goats to produce spider silk protein in their milk. Spiber have created a manmade version using synthesised genes which coax bacteria to produce fibroin, a structural protein found in spider silk.
Spiber then uses the technology to culture the microbes efficiently and weave the fibroin into fabric. The company, a spinoff from Tokyo’s Keio University, has applied for 16 patents on its spider silk technology. It is also teaming up with car parts maker Kojima Industries to build a plant that can turn out about 220 pounds of the synthetic silk a month. Spiber hopes to have an initial mass production of 10 tons a year starting in 2015.
‘This fabric can be used in various industries, such as automobiles and medicine,’ Spiber President Kazuhide Sekiyama told The Asahi Shimbun newspaper. ‘It is a major first step toward a manufacturing process that does not depend on petroleum.’
Even in the minute quantities in which it can be gathered, it has found a number of uses – as a fishing line, or in the crosshairs of optical instruments.