Spider silk is one of nature’s stretchiest and strongest materials – making it ideal for active sportswear. However, harvesting spider silk on an industrial scale is not very efficient, mainly due to spiders' competitive disposition to eat their rivals.
The spider silk protein, fibroin, is therefore generated with the help of microbes. Spiber isolated the gene responsible for the production of fibroin in spiders and introduced it into bioengineered bacteria, meaning they churned it out as they grew. The protein is then collected and spun into artificial silk.
Image credit: The North Face/Spiber
There are also environmental benefits to this material which could help curtail our dependence on petroleum. In a Spiber statement, they say: “Most sports apparel is made from synthetic polymer materials (such as polyester, nylon, etc.) that require petroleum to produce, and production of these materials consumes massive amounts of energy and produces large amounts of greenhouse gases. With the threat of the world’s fossil fuels running dry, the responsibility of shifting from non-renewable to sustainable resources rests with today’s society.”
“Not since DuPont first launched Lycra 40 years ago has a textile come along set to revolutionize the fashion industry,” says Suzanne Lee, founder of Biofabricate, a design and biotech conference, according to Popular Science.
So far, they’ve just made prototypes. However, by the looks of things, The North Face hopes to release the coat for commercial sale by 2016.