A biotech company has just delivered to the US Army a prototype fabric that could change tactical garments forever. The fibers used in the material are similar to natural spider silk, which is stronger than steel by weight. The army will now test this to assess just how bulletproof this material really is.
The fabric, developed by Kraig Biocraft Laboratories, has been named “Dragon Silk”, and is made by genetically engineering silkworms to produce spider silk. Spider silk is the strongest naturally occurring fiber known, which give it serious potential for bulletproof armor. Some synthetic polymers are stronger than spider silk but they are not as light or flexible, and that is key.
Tactical spider silk garments are both light-weight and incredibly strong. The fibers are biocompatible, which means are less likely to create irritation and could be worn directly against the skin. Kraig Biocraft believes that garments fashioned from Dragon Silk would be more comfortable than traditional body armor.
“After years of research and investment, developing this groundbreaking technology, we are very excited to now see it in the hands of the US Army,” Jon Rice, COO of Kraig Biocraft, said in a statement.
“For me, personally, and for the Company, the opportunity to help protect the brave men and women whom dedicate themselves to our protection is a great honor.”
Producing genetically engineered spider silk and spinning it into usable fibers is not an easy task. Researchers had to work out how to form the proteins that make up the silk, and how to make it efficiently. Silk can’t be harvest from spiders in the same way we harvest it from silkworms, and that’s why the company used genetically modified silkworms to produce their new fabric for them.
While the interest is obviously focused on the potential bullet-proofing capabilities, spider silk actually has applications far and wide. The fibers could be used in construction materials, common textiles, but also in medicine. Researchers suggested using them the fibers to repair nerve damage and tissues. There is even been a proposal of having antibiotic infused fibers to suture wounds. It will be very interesting to see how this technology develops in the next few years.